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Comanche Nation Family Celebrates Namesake Bridge

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LAWTON Okla_ Four generations of a Comanche Nation family gathered on their land Tuesday to dedicate a newly-constructed bridge to their patriarch.

The Ray Niedo Bridge is located on Lee Boulevard just west of Post Oak in western Comanche County. Construction of the $900,000 bridge was a joint project between the Comanche Nation and Comanche County. The once dangerous shallow water crossing is now a sturdy and safe bridge.

Before the bridge was built, hundreds of people driving west on Lee would often have to turn back, because the shallow water crossing was too dangerous. Residents in the area have reported their cars had gotten stuck in the moist dirt. Tuesday, inspectors gave the bridge the final seal of approval, but it was the Niedo family themselves who made Tuesday's dedication special.

Vivian Niedo Hale said she has vivid memories of playing in the creek below the newly-minted Ray Niedo Bridge. Her family has lived on the property for decades, so when she learned that the bridge was going to be named after her father, she was overcome with emotion.

"It's kind of like out of a movie," Vivian said. "You're going, ‘Wow, we actually have a bridge in our name.' This is what I wanted to see Tuesday, the sign with my dad's name on it. It's bittersweet kind of thing that he's not here but his name is there."

The Niedo family said the now sturdy bridge is long overdue. The Comanche Nation's Adrian Tehauno said the project didn't happen overnight.

"On this particular project, we had some problems with the right of ways," Tehauno said. "There are so many heirs on some of the land. We had to approach the Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent, and he gave us permission to go ahead and sign for the ones that weren't here. So, all in all, it took about a year from the start to actually getting under construction."

Western District Commissioner Don Hawthorne said the project was a win-win situation for everyone involved.

"The county paid for the engineering, and we moved the fences," Hawthorne said. "They paid for the rest of the project, which is very fortunate for us. It gives us a good bridge a safer bridge. Before, it was just a low-water crossing or as we called it, a no-water crossing."

For the Niedo family, this bridge is proof of their long-standing heritage on the land, not to mention homage to their father.

"I just wished dad could have been here," Vivian said. "He was a humorous man. He had a comment for everything that came out of your mouth. He'd have probably said it's just a bridge. He'd have loved it. That's my bridge."

The Niedo family said they plan on having another ceremony on the 128-foot bridge at a later date to celebrate their father in their own special way.

The Comanche Nation said they plan on asphalting the two-mile stretch of road on each side of the bridge in the future. Comanche Nation's Tribal Administrator William Owens said the tribe services eight counties and must prioritize its projects.

"We go look at numbers, traffic numbers, and we see how many people travel this area put up markers down," Owens said. "This is a well traveled road, and we'd love to pave it all the way."

Owens said these projects are ultimately about making sure drivers are safe on the roads.

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