From basketball hoops to swimming pool, NMDOT finds odd highway hazards

On Special Assignment

It’s the kind of thing that can cause traffic back-ups or car crashes: a couch in the middle of the interstate. That’s why the people paid to get rid of those highway hazards have an important job, and you won’t believe some of the things they find blocking traffic.

“Just when you thought you’ve seen it all,” said Christopher Matson, a New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) highway maintenance worker.

He and his coworkers pick up all kinds of things on some of the busiest roads in the state: a canoe on Paseo del Norte, a swimming pool on Tramway, and even basketball hoops blocking traffic on three separate occasions. 

Those are actual calls NMDOT got last year in District 3, which includes Bernalillo, Valencia and Sandoval Counties.

“I’ve had a lot of crazy experiences, and I’ve picked up a lot of weird things on the roadways,” Matson said.

District 3 handled more than 1,600 calls in 2018, sending workers scrambling to clear the roadways of tires, furniture, Christmas trees and everything but the kitchen sink.

Well, actually, scratch that. There was a kitchen sink reported near I-25 between Comanche and Montgomery in November.

“Stuff that’s not properly secured or tied down on a vehicle that flies out,” Matson explained.

One woman lost a box full of pictures of her children.

“Her name was on the box actually, so we were able to reach out to her and let her know that we had found her items,” said NMDOT spokesperson Kimberly Gallegos.

Gallegos showed us the heartfelt thank-you card they got in return.

“When I saw what was in that box, I almost cried at what I could have lost. You’re kindness is amazing,” Gallegos said, reading from the card.

Most of the time, though, they’re picking up tires, pieces of wood and metal, tons of trash, along with lots of dead animals.

District 3 said it spent nearly $950,000 on cleanup in the last fiscal year.

These crews also handle emergency calls, like highway spills and closures, damaged guardrails and potholes.

While they’re running out across lanes of traffic and getting rid of highway hazards to keep drivers safe, they’re hoping those drivers will return the favor.

“Just keep an eye out for us and move over if possible, slow down. You know, we’d like to get home safe too,” Matson said.

NMDOT said two of its cleanup workers were hit by cars and injured on the job in the last year District 3.

GRAPH: Most Frequent Reasons for Calls in 2018


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