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Crash Zone

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A stretch of northbound Interstate 25 near the Jefferson exit proved hazardous for drivers this summer, particularly in August when almost two dozen multicar crashes occurred, more than double the total number of accidents in the first six months of the year.

The increase coincided with a three-month, $1.8 million improvement project by the New Mexico Department of Transportation that took over a three-mile section of I-25 between Comanche Road and Jefferson Boulevard.

The project was aimed at reducing congestion near the Comanche exit, where four lanes merged to three shortly after drivers swooped down ramps from east- and westbound I-40. The project extended the fourth, outside lane to just past the Jefferson exit.

Wrecks by month

January 0
February 1
March 1
April 1
May 1
June 4
July 8
August 23
September 4

Crashes at northbound I-25 and Jefferson in 2012

At the Jefferson exit, fewer than one accident occurred a month from January to May. That increased to four in June, eight in July and a whopping 23 in August, according to data from the Albuquerque Police Department.

NMDOT spokesman Phil Gallegos said Thursday the department worked to make sure drivers were adequately notified about the construction project and the looming lane termination as they headed toward the Jefferson exit. He said crews added more room on the shoulder, more striping and added an overhead sign as the project moved forward.

“We marked, striped and signed up the wazoo,” he said.

He also acknowledged a lot of the congestion prevented at the Comanche exit was transferred three miles down the highway to where the outside lane now ends, and traffic merges into three lanes.

“We’re almost a victim of our own success,” Gallegos said.

An APD traffic lieutenant attributed the number of accidents to reduced speeds for the construction project and drivers who caused accidents because they had taken their eyes off the road to look at an earlier wreck.

“Crash scenes cause crashes because of rubber-neckers not paying attention and trying to merge lanes aggressively trying to get around the original crash,” traffic Lt. Chad Dolan said in an email. “This portion of the freeway is commonly busy, especially due to the amount of restaurants, movie theater, etc.”

The number of accidents prompted construction crews to tack on another 500 feet of highway to the outside lane past the Jefferson exit, Gallegos said, as the project was winding down in late August. The project was officially finished the first week of September.

He said reduced congestion at Comanche now allows impatient drivers to reach excessive speeds, only to be forced to slam on the brakes or “force merge” into a line of cars as the lane ends past Jefferson.

However, the number of accidents in the area decreased to four in September, which Gallegos attributed to both the lengthened outside lane and people getting used to the new arrangement.

As the widening project was going on, the city was also building a multiuse overpass over the Jefferson exit, Gallegos said, which resulted in more lane closures and other complications. Gallegos said he thought the two agencies effectively coordinated to prevent too many headaches for motorists.

Should the bonds pass this November to finance the Paseo del Norte/I-25 improvement project, the outside lane will extend all the way to Paseo, Gallegos said.

“The general idea is to increase capacity on all four lanes and improve them,” he said.

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal