NMDOT struggles to keep pace with illegal encampments - Albuquerque Journal

NMDOT struggles to keep pace with illegal encampments

WHY ARE TENTS ALLOWED ALONG THE HIGHWAYS? As the homeless population has exploded in the Albuquerque metro area, readers have been asking why tents are allowed in the highway right of way.

That includes the tents, shopping carts and debris along the fences at the Interstate 40 and Coors interchange, and those precariously balanced along I-40 outside the Winrock Town Center fence.

Such encampments are illegal, but there are so many the New Mexico Department of Transportation says it has to prioritize which ones to remove first, as well as go far outside the highway mission and try to get the unhoused help and tackle cleaning up the area once the campers have left.

District Three Engineer Justin Gibson says in short, “encampments on NMDOT property are not allowed. The camps that currently exist are a result of the current socioeconomic condition and are addressed as soon as practical by NMDOT and partnering agencies.”

But the complex problem of homelessness deserves his longer explanation.

“As you know, NMDOT is responsible for the operation and maintenance of our interstates, national highways and New Mexico state routes to include road and bridge infrastructure and associated NMDOT transportation network, and our mission is not one of being a human services resource agency,” Gibson says. “Encampments are a new and steadily increasing challenge for NMDOT. Encampments within the NMDOT right of way, especially along our interstate systems, are prohibited as this federal property under the purview of NMDOT and the Federal Highway Administration as part of the USDOT is access controlled, meaning access to and from the interstate is strictly controlled to ensure mobility of vehicular traffic including freight, commuters and local traffic. ”

HOW THEY ARE REMOVED: Gibson says ” NMDOT, along with other partnering agencies, has a process in place to work to remove encampments within the right of way, but as you can see the resource of our staff conducting this process is heavily outweighed by the number of camps. On a daily basis NMDOT District Three receives calls about camps within NMDOT right of way, which are prioritized to a schedule to be given notice to be vacated.

“NMDOT District Three works in collaboration with multiple agencies to address the encampments of unsheltered individuals along I-40 and I-25, which includes the clean-up of abandoned trash and debris. District Three’s main concerns are for the safety of the unsheltered individuals, the traveling public and the safety/condition of our state and national infrastructure.”

HOW THEY ARE PREVENTED: As for stopping the camping before it starts, Gibson says “District Three has placed ‘no trespassing’ signs in a number of NMDOT’s right of way facilities in an attempt to advise individuals it is not safe to be in these areas. NMDOT will also be providing individuals booklets for resources available to them in the Albuquerque area. Our intent is we can educate the unsheltered community about the rules of our right of way and deter future instances of illegal encampments.”

The main number to NMDOT District Three is (505) 934-0354.

I-40 WORK STARTS TODAY: Mike called to report I-40 is in rough condition coming into town from Tijeras, and signs have been announcing upcoming work. So what is it?

Kim Gallegos with NMDOT District Three says beginning today, May 9, crews will work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on an $8.1 million roadway rehabilitation project from Tijeras to Carnuel – basically a total repave of the interstate. Two lanes of traffic will remain open both eastbound and westbound, and the project is expected to tun through January 2023. Check out nmroads.com for updates.

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858; dwestphal@abqjournal.com; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.


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