Ryan Sparks
Curry Coastal Pilot

The Smith River Tribal Council broke ground on a multi-million dollar safety corridor project that will allow for safer travel for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists along a 4.1 mile stretch of Highway 101 in Smith River.

The tribal council was awarded a $3 million “TIGER III” transportation grant from the United States Department of Transportation that aims to improve roadways to address safety concerns along Highway 101 as it runs through tribal lands, and held a groundbreaking event at the intersection of Highway 101 and North Indian Road to celebrate.

Improvements include colorized, stamped shoulder treatments along existing roads, new signage and lighting, and other related small-scale upgrades.

"We want to make it more livable and walkable for everyone so that pedestrians and bicyclists are sharing the road in a safe and visible way," said tribal consultant Terry Supahan.

The project is scheduled to begin around August 1 and run through to completion by the beginning of November.

Construction will take place starting at Rowdy Creek and Highway 101 and will move north for 4.1 miles and include the intersection of Highway 101 and North Indian Road.

According to Supahan, the council's research shows that the improvements are necessary to increase the safety of those living in the area.

"The tribe leased some different construction equipment where a photographer could get up into a cage," he said. "There is time-elapse video of people in farm equipment, riding lawn mower, wheelchairs, just the whole gambit of people that were trying to get across 101. We'd love to see something eventually on this intersection. A roundabout, stoplight, something to make it safer to get into and to cross."

Supahan also states that this project is the first step in a long-term process of increasing safety along a 10-mile stretch of roadway from the Dr. Fine Bridge in Smith River to the Oregon border; an area Caltrans has designated a 10-mile safety corridor.

"This is part of a project to begin to slow traffic down through this corridor and you have to do it in stages because you can't legally create an illegal speed trap. We have to take transportation studies before and after this project and if we can prove that we actually did slow traffic down we'll get to the next step of some other projects to begin to slow traffic down as it comes through reservation area and lands," Supahan said.

While the tribal council is excited about the grant award, they also want to continue the work along the corridor once the project is complete.

"The problem is, nothing in transportation is simple, easy, or short- term," admitted Supahan. "Everything is long term and you have to think long term. You have to think this project is a continuation because once we finish with this we hope to make improvements throughout the safety corridor."

The Tribe of Smith River Rancheria is one of only four tribes to be granted a TIGER III grant this year and will be unique in that the tribe, in partnership with Hemmingsen Contracting Company and sponsored by Sweet Grove America, will be completing the project themselves. They will not be receiving assistance from Caltrans in constructing the roadway improvements - a fact that is not lost on tribal chairperson Kara Bundin Miller who said, "It's a neat concept that we get to build this road ourselves."