State-Tribal Partnership Improving Oklahoma’s Transportation Infrastructure

Strong, modern infrastructure is an essential part of healthy economies. Without it, commerce becomes inefficient, quality of life deteriorates, and ultimately, jobs and opportunities go elsewhere. But maintaining necessary infrastructure is extremely expensive, and government budgets strain to find the resources amidst competing demands for other essentials like education and health care.

In transportation, Oklahoma tribes are first in the nation in the U.S. Department of Transportation contributions to local roads. Twenty-seven thousand miles, over $200 million contributed to local roads and bridges. This is money that would have to come from taxes and from taxpayers, instead it comes from the tribes and their generosity.

Judge Robert Henry
Oklahoma City University (2010-2018)

Anadarko Farmer

“We need new roads and the way we’re getting them is with the help of the tribes.”

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This is why the Native American tribes are such important partners for the state of Oklahoma to meet its infrastructure needs. “Unlike other corporations that come and go based upon the incentives they have, we're not going anywhere,” said Cherokee Nation Businesses VP of Government Relations Kim Teehee. “So we invest greatly in infrastructure, on road development, and ensuring the road safety of not just our citizens, but all of Oklahomans.”

The impact of that investment is nearly impossible to overstate. In his role as Director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), Gary Ridley learned first-hand what a difference the tribes make. “It’s a domino effect,” he said. “When you're able to have a partner that comes to the table with finances, with money to help fix a problem, it enables you to fix not only that problem, but now you have the funds to be able to go fix another problem.”

A deadly intersection in rural northeastern Oklahoma was made safer thanks to the Cherokee Nation.

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Since fiscal year 1980, Oklahoma tribes have invested an estimated $200 million directly toward highway improvement projects across the state. Not only are the benefits of these investments directly felt by the countless Oklahomans who drive on these roads, they also significantly impact the growth of businesses and opportunities.

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Additionally, Native American tribes benefit Oklahoma infrastructure through the federal Tribal Transportation Program (TTP). This national program provides funding to tribes for improvements in their jurisdictional areas—which, in Oklahoma’s case, cover nearly 75 percent of the state. “These tribal areas overlap with county, city and state jurisdictions, who benefit directly from the transportation improvements with no additional cost to local governments,” wrote economist Kyle Dean. In 2017 alone, $42,552,352 in TTP funds directly benefited Oklahoma transportation infrastructure.

$200 million

Estimated total tribal investment in Oklahoma highway improvement projects from FY1980 to FY2018


2017 investment in Oklahoma infrastructure made possible by the federal Tribal Transportation Program

$13.5 million

Funding from the Chickasaw Nation for improvements to I-35 at the Oklahoma/Texas border

$12 million

Funding and right-of-way donations from the Cherokee Nation to improve Tulsa’s I-44/193rd Street interchange

$8 million

Funding from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation for improvements at I-40 and SH-102 near Shawnee

$5 million

Funding from the Choctaw Nation for improvements to the US-69B and US-69 junction in Durant

Together, the tribes and the state are paving a strong and promising future for Oklahoma’s economy through their productive, mutually beneficial partnership.

“It's not very often that a government, whether it's city government, county government, or state government, comes to you with a problem and, oh, by the way, brings some financial assistance in order for you to help solve the problem. Usually it's just the problem,” said Ridley. “But the tribal governments, it's how can we help?”

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