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Turtle Mountain tribe seeks state help with popular Jack Rabbit Road

BISMARCK — Officials from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa approached state lawmakers on Monday about helping the tribe find money to rebuild a popular road that serves eight schools but is becoming a safety hazard.

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Built in 1976-77, Jack Rabbit Road runs through the heart of the reservation but wasn’t designed for the heavy traffic and vehicles — especially buses — that now frequent the narrow, two-lane road, said Richard McCloud, the tribe’s chairman.

Bumps in the road have caused “numerous” rollover accidents, he told the Legislature’s Economic Impact Committee in Bismarck.

The east-west road runs 14.6 miles from Belcourt to the Dunseith Day School just west of the reservation. It would cost an estimated $20 million to rebuild, said Ron Trottier, the tribe’s transportation director.

Jack Rabbit Road is the unofficial name given to the road, which actually consists of three roads managed by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs: BIA 10, BIA 15 and BIA 8.

Because the road isn’t part of the state highway system, it’s not eligible for funding through the North Dakota Department of Transportation. And the tribe receives only about $1.8 million annually from the BIA for road maintenance, Trottier said.

“So we don’t have a lot of extra money for reconstruction or new construction,” he said.

Located in north-central North Dakota near the U.S.-Canada border, the Turtle Mountain Reservation measures only 12 miles long by 6 miles wide but is home to about 18,000 people, McCloud said. Revenue from the tribe’s Sky Dancer Casino isn’t enough to support the road reconstruction, and federal budget sequestration also is expected to hit reservations hard, he said.

State Highway 5 runs within 3 miles parallel to Jack Rabbit Road and has received recent upgrades, but Trottier said many drivers still use Jack Rabbit Road and too many people live along the road to abandon it. With North Dakota swimming in oil tax revenue, tribal officials felt the state might have the ability to help, he said.

Trottier said the tribe has been in contact with the offices of Gov. Jack Dalrymple and U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp about the road. The Economic Impact Committee’s chairman, Sen. David Oehlke, R-Devils Lake, urged McCloud to keep visiting the with governor’s office and DOT about potential solutions, calling the road a “real problem.”

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