FARMINGTON — Of the more than 9,700 miles of public roads on the Navajo Nation, only about a third are paved.

Come winter, travel is made that much harder.

In the past week alone, the reservation has received its share of snow, rain and sleet — all of which damage unpaved roads.

Many Navajo were left stranded at home for a day or two, if not more, depending on their location, Navajo Nation officials said this week.

"It was an eye-opener," said Rose Whitehair, the tribe's Director of Emergency Management, after driving the slick and poorly maintained roads this week.

"If you have leave (at work), take it," she said.

The roads for years have proven a challenge for residents to deal with, and for officials to maintain. None of the agencies that share the responsibility of caring for the roads have the funds to properly maintain them, they say.

Tribal, state, and county agencies share the price tag for maintenance with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and such funds have been harder and harder to come by in recent years because of budget cuts.

"There's no further funding," said Dan Alpert, legislative assistant for Senator Jeff Bingaman in Washington, D.C.

Since 1978, Bingaman has championed better roads on the reservation. In 1998, he introduced a bill, the "Indian School Bus Route Safety Reauthorization Act," that helped to distribute funds to counties overlapping the Navajo Nation so that they could maintain roads used to transport Navajo children to school.


From 1998 to 2011, New Mexico received about $7 million from the act to care for roads in both San Juan County and McKinley County, both of which overlap the reservation.

The funding will end this year.

"It's hard enough to get students to school," Alpert said.

The issue of poor roads on the reservation likely will not be solved any time soon, as it costs millions of dollars to pave one stretch of road. Many roads instead are covered in gravel.

The Navajo Nation Department of Transportation did make recommendations this week, however, to drivers who still will need to drive on the reservation during the winter.

Tips for drivers include:

* Check your car battery

* Check your tire tread

* Check your windshield wipers

* Keep windows clean

* Put no-freeze in your washer reservoir

* Check your radiator's anti-freeze levels

* Keep a flashlight in your car, as well as jumper cables, a shovel, a snow brush, an ice scraper, blankets, flaming devices, food, water, medications, a cell phone, and a car cell phone charger

For more information about Navajo Nation travel, contact the Department of Transportation at 505-371-8300.