OCHELATA, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma Department of Transportation cut the ribbon on a highway safety improvement project along US Highway 75 near Ochelata, officially completing the seven-month long project.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and District 12 Tribal Councilor Dora Patzkowski met with Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz and other tribal, county and state officials Thursday to cut the ribbon on this $678,000 project.

“This intersection provides important access to Cherokee Nation’s Cooweescoowee Health Center in Ocheleta, where tens of thousands of patients are seen each year,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “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 Cherokee Nation received the $411,000 through Tribal Transportation Safety Funds, which are set aside by the federal government each year 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,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz. “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 will is a direct route for visitors to the Washington County Cherokee Association’s new community building, which was recently constructed near the Ochelata health facility.

With the construction of the new community building, traffic is expected to grow at the intersection.

“I feel this project is invaluable to this community,” said District 12 Tribal Councilor Dora Patskowski. “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 the number of traffic conflict points and help improve safety.

“This was a bad intersection to start with,” said Cherokee Nation Community Services Executive Director Michael Lynn. “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.”

Cherokee Nation’s Ochelata highway project was one of 94 nationwide to receive Tribal Transportation Safety Funds. Cherokee Nation was also the only tribe in Oklahoma to be awarded TTSF for a specific project.