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Navajo Nation eyes renaming US highway after late senator

Code Talkers Highway AP IMAGE
Posted at 11:16 AM, Aug 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-14 14:16:32-04

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) -- Some Navajo Nation officials want New Mexico to rename a U.S. highway after one of the longest-serving Native American lawmakers in U.S. history.

A Navajo legislative committee is requesting New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham name U.S. Highway 491 in honor of the late state Sen. John Pinto, the Farmington Daily Times reports.

Pinto, who died in May at 94, had long sought to turn the deadly U.S. 666 into a four-lane highway and to change its name to U.S. 491.

The road was nicknamed the "Devil's Highway" because of the significance of number 666 has for many Christian evangelicals and because it was the site of a number of deadly traffic fatalities. The highway is featured in such movies like "Natural Born Killers" and "Repo Man."

The highway was named one of the 20 most dangerous in the country in 1997.

Pinto was among the state legislators and Navajo leaders who got the highway changed to U.S. 491.

RELATED: John Pinto, Navajo Code Talker and longtime New Mexico state senator, dies at 94

"He had a strong passion for that highway," said Delegate Mark Freeland, who is sponsoring the bill in the Navajo Nation Tribal Council.

Such a designation will honor and memorialize Pinto's legacy, Freeland said.

"It'll be an ultimate tribute to him. I hope the state gives it some consideration," he said.

U.S. Highway 491 stretches about 195 miles (310 kilometers) from Gallup, New Mexico, through Colorado to Monticello, Utah.

Pinto was a World War II Navajo code talker and served over four decades in the state Legislature.

Lujan Grisham's office on Thursday stopped short of endorsing the proposal on the highway but signaled the governor would be open to the discussion.

"The governor certainly recognizes the need to appropriately honor a singular public servant and statesman like Sen. Pinto and will always be open to exploring ways to do that," said spokesman Tripp Stelnicki.

Marisa Maez, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, said any renaming of the highway would involve a formal request and a formal proposal written up by the department. It would be then have to be presented to a state commission and approved by the Navajo Council.