ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Miles of crumbling roads, dangerously short on-ramps, and high rates of crashes—a new study suggests those problems and more along I-40 between Arizona and Albuquerque; and there’s no easy fix. State officials offered their recommendations on what to do with the 150-mile stretch.
“We are seeing a deterioration in this corridor,” said Stephanie Miller, deputy project manager with Parametrix, who performed the study for the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT).
It’s a bleak message around the western stretch of I-40: “There’s multiple deficiencies and immediate needs. Pavement is deteriorating rapidly. The pavement report that we got in 2022 showed about 18 miles of pavement that needed reconstruction or rehabilitation. We just got a new report from DOT a couple months ago for 2023 and that more than doubled. It went to 38 miles,” Miller says.
And that’s hardly all: the report also suggests 118 curve deficiencies—or problems with areas where the road curves—multiple bridges in disrepair, and around 70 ramps and merge areas that are too short; something engineers say has made for high-crash areas along the route.
“We get about 18 fatal crashes a year on this corridor and about 17 serious injury crashes,” Miller said. According to the report, between 2019 and 2021, the route has seen an average of around 639 crashes a year.
With traffic only expected to grow through 2050, consultants offered their recommendation: “We are recommending that the enhanced two lane…[we] believe that that option would provide the greatest benefit for the most people in the shortest period of time,” said Chris Baca, P.E., project manager with Parametrix.
They’re suggesting maintaining two lanes of traffic both ways, widening the shoulders to help for emergencies, and only adding a third lane where needed. However, that wasn’t well-received by lawmakers. “I am very surprised by this recommendation,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, (D-Gallup), “I had, in the last few years, been super clear about the problems that we have out here regarding I-40, and the need for a third lane.”
“I don’t understand why we would approve enhancing an existing system to meet the current problems when we know there’s going to be growth,” Lundstrom continued, “I would not support this. I think we need to look carefully at three-lane. I think that needs to be the focus.”
“The biggest amount of semi trucks are on I-40 than I believe any other highway within the country. Maybe not in this first few states that we start back here but it is highly traveled and I most certainly could see the suggestions you made today as being very helpful but also very limited,” said Rep. Kathleen Cates (D-Rio Rancho).
“To me, it just seems that we’re trying to patch something and we’re not fixing anything. You know, cause the whole state needs roads. But Interstate 40 is the heaviest traveled,” said Rep. Harry Garcia, (D-Grants), “This study to me is not very feasible to what we need to do in the state of New Mexico.”
According to the report, building a third lane along the 150-mile stretch of I-40 west of Albuquerque could be costly. Early estimates show it could be as much as $4.8 billion.