OCHELATA – The Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma Department of Transportation cut the ribbon on a highway safety improvement project along U.S. Highway 75 near Ochelata, officially completing the seven-month long project.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and Dist. 12 Tribal Councilor Dora Patzkowski met with Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz and other tribal, county and state officials on Sept. 5 to cut the ribbon on the $678,000 project.
“This intersection provides important access to Cherokee Nation’s Cooweescoowee Health Center in Ochelata, where tens of thousands of patients are seen each year,” Hoskin said. “The Cherokee Nation is always proud to work with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, especially when our work helps prevent collisions and makes a route safer. This is a great example of the strengths of a partnership between the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma.”
The CN received the $411,000 through Tribal Transportation Safety Funds, which are set aside by the federal government annually to address transportation safety issues in Indian Country. Funds are awarded to federally recognized tribes through a competitive discretionary program.
“We are deeply appreciative of the continued partnership with the Cherokee Nation, which helped accelerate the start of this project by at least two years,” Gatz said. “These safety improvements will be a great benefit for the drivers in the years to come, especially as traffic continues to grow in this corridor.”
Aside from providing access to the Cooweescoowee Health Center, US-75 services area-wide commerce traffic and is a direct route for visitors to the Washington County Cherokee Association’s community building, which was recently constructed near the tribe’s Ochelata health facility.
With the construction of the community building, traffic is expected to grow at the intersection.
“I feel this project is invaluable to this community,” Patskowski said. “There have been several accidents, so I pray that this will alleviate a lot of that, and I think it is a godsend.”
Between 2012 and 2017, 37 collisions occurred at the US-75-W2900 Road intersection, including five that resulted in fatalities. The intersection improvement plan called for the construction of “J-turns” in the corridor and a southbound deceleration lane on the highway to reduce traffic conflict points and help improve safety.
“This was a bad intersection to start with,” CN Community Services Executive Director Michael Lynn said. “We’ve had a lot of accidents, so this is a major step forward for the Cherokee Nation to keep citizens as safe as we can.”The Nation’s Ochelata highway project was one of 94 nationwide to receive Tribal Transportation Safety Funds. The CN was also the only tribe in Oklahoma awarded TTSF for a specific project, officials said.