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Why NM can’t have nice things, like a scenic overlook

WHERE DID THE I-40 OVERLOOK STOPS GO? That question comes from Phyllis and Bruce Tempest, who ask in an email, “Why were the roadside rest stops on both the north and south side of Interstate 40 overlooking the Laguna Pueblo removed and the area regraded?”

Delane D. Baros, quality manager/public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s District Six office, says it came down to safety.

“The scenic overlook stops on each side of I-40 at Laguna were removed because of environmental and health and safety issues. Both locations did not have restroom facilities nor running water and were simply intended as a ‘scenic overlook’ with four large 50-gallon trash receptacles, two on each side, available for motorists.”

Fair warning: This is where the explanation takes a turn to the graphic. You may want to wait to keep reading until long after breakfast. For those with stronger stomachs, it’s important to know what NMDOT crews deal with and what precipitated the shutdown decision.

Baros says, “The District Rest Area Crew, who are charged with the upkeep and normal maintenance of all rest areas in our district, including the scenic overlook stop, were faced with a variety of health risks. They were encountering and picking up an enormous amount of urine-filled plastic containers – water jugs, water and soda bottles, etc. – and hypodermic needles on a daily basis. On several occasions our employees were ‘sprayed’ with the urine bottles because they had built up pressure from being enclosed and sitting in the heat, exploding as soon as they were disturbed.”

And somehow, it gets worse.

“Moreover, both sides of the scenic overlook stop were becoming illegal dump sites as our crews were no longer replacing bags in the trash receptacles, but having to take a larger truck to pick up and haul away mattresses, dead animal carcasses, large amounts of bagged trash and the like,” Baros says.

In other words, visitors had turned the overlooks into literal dumps.

But wait, there’s more.

“Months prior to the closure,” Baros says, “NMDOT discovered significant issues that were unsafe to the environment and our personnel, who lacked training and protective equipment to handle these risks. Extensive evidence of auto/truck engine services being performed was found. There were used oil filters and the soil was saturated with motor oil throughout both stops. The most significant hazard was evidence of an RV or similar vehicle that had its human waste compartment emptied onto the ground. Part of it was saturated into the soil, and the remainder into a nearby arroyo.”

Barros explains the risks not only to NMDOT employees but to the traveling public led to the decision “to close both scenic overlook stops after meeting with pueblo officials and consulting with the NMDOT Maintenance Bureau.”

Motorists are advised to now take advantage of the Acomita Rest Area 12 miles west, which has a restroom, dog run and RV facilities. In addition, Baros points out there are two casinos with full-service truck stops/travel centers, 6 and 12 miles west of the shuttered overlooks, and one gas station/convenience store less than one mile east.

And so that the vandalism doesn’t happen again, Baros says “to prevent unauthorized entrance/parking, NMDOT has removed the pavement and backfill and removed the ingress/egress lanes along with any striping.”

YOU CAN’T GET TO I-40 FROM TRAMWAY: That’s until Friday.

All access to I-40 at Tramway will be closed from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. starting Monday through Feb. 7, according to a news release from Kimberly Gallegos, NMDOT’s District Three public information officer.

Crews will be doing a mill-and-inlay project, where they grind up the top layer of asphalt and replace it. Both eastbound and westbound on-ramps at I-40/Tramway will be closed, as will the westbound off-ramp.

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, N.M., 87109.


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