Smith River Rancheria wins TIGER grant (with a little help from Smart Growth America)

Photo of U.S. Highway 101 as it passes through the Smith River Rancheria, from AARoads.

This post was co-written by Terry Supahan, President of Supahan Consulting Group.

With technical assistance from Smart Growth America, the Smith River Rancheria, a federally recognized tribal government, secured a $2.5 million TIGER grant for the U.S. Highway 101 Multimodal Smith River Safety Corridor project. The project will implement walking and bicycling safety improvements along approximately 1.3 miles of the Gateway Area of U.S. 101 in California just south of the Oregon border. Project elements include unique colorized, stamped shoulder treatments, new signage, lighting, and related improvements. The objectives of these investments are to increase safety, especially for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable users, as well as calm traffic, expand travel choices, and enhance community identity and livability.

The Smith River Rancheria is comprised of approximately 500 acres of land and has over 1,000 Tolowa tribal members. The Rancheria is located within the aboriginal territory of its people, which extend from Wilson Creek in southern Del Norte County north and east to the Rogue and Applegate Valleys of Southwestern Oregon. The tribe is strongly committed to expanding and preserving its land, its ways, and its future.

Nationally significant Highway 101 is also the Smith River Rancheria’s main street. While it serves regional traffic well, it is a high-speed, dangerous highway that does not serve local needs or reflect the tribe’s unique character and identity. According to Caltrans, there were 117 collisions, including nine fatalities, within the 10-mile planning area between 2005 and 2010. Residents – including children – are forced to walk along this highway with no sidewalks, lighting, or in many places even shoulders to get to tribal housing, preschool, the nearby health clinic, a convenience store or restaurant.

The tribe has been engaged in a groundbreaking corridor planning partnership with Caltrans, Del Norte (County) Local Transportation Commission, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to improve this corridor. This community-focused transportation planning partnership is the first of its kind in the country according to FHWA, and involves a Native American Tribe along with regional, state, and federal agencies. This unique partnership collaboratively developed the TIGER project to begin implementing the partnership’s shared long-term vision for community-based livability, safety, and mobility investments along U.S. 101.

Smart Growth America provided training and technical assistance to a number of rural communities during the TIGER competition, including Smith River Rancheria. The tribe contracted with Smart Growth America for assistance in completing its grant application. Tribal funds, supplemented with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, were used to hire Charlier & Associates of Boulder, who assisted Tribal Administrator Russ Crabtree and tribal planning consultant Terry Supahan with the preparation of what proved to be a winning application.

In the words of Kara Brundin-Miller, Chairperson of the Smith River Rancheria Tribal Council, “We believe our project embodies the TIGER program’s objectives of funding a high-priority, project-ready multimodal surface transportation project with local and regional benefit that increases safety, transportation choices, economic opportunity, and community livability.”

If your town or organization is interested in working with Smart Growth America on technical issues like the federal grant application process, please contact us or add your name to our Sustainable Communities Network mailing list.