Westside drivers left with few detour options when interstate shuts down

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – Two deadly early morning crashes Thursday left Albuquerque drivers at a near standstill for hours.

The widespread congestion happens any time there’s an interstate shutdown during rush hour and traffic spills onto surface streets already clogged for the morning commute.

“As I was waiting in the traffic that was going on, my battery died in the middle of it all just waiting for the traffic to clear on up,” Albuquerque motorcyclist Karl Walker said.

Local businesses see the direct impact of clogged roads.

“It hurts business so much,” said Patrisha Medrano, co-owner of AMPM Salon off I-40 and Rio Grande. “We’ve had three people cancel this morning just due to being in traffic.”

“It makes everything extremely difficult and everybody’s nerves are accelerated,” added Jacqueline Griego, owner of Labor of Love, which offers home health services. “Business pretty much comes to a standstill if you can’t get nurses where they need to be and supplies to the homes that they need to go to.”

Years ago, the Albuquerque Police Department made a promise to get these crashes cleaned up faster with new technology.

“It’s a laser-guided system that takes 3-D mapping of the entire scene at 360 degrees and helps our traffic officers recreate and re-diagram the scene in scale,” APD public information officer, Tanner Tixier, said.

APD said a speeding motorcyclist crashed on eastbound I-40 just ahead of the 4th Street ramp around 6 a.m.

Lines of cars stretched for miles on I-40. Three and a half hours later, I-40 was still shut down.

With west Central Avenue no longer an option because of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit work, it took westside commuters well over an hour to get downtown.

“I needed to come downtown here on 4th and Roma and it took me two hours to get across. There’s only, what, like three other ways to cross over the river?” said Candice Skaggs of Albuquerque. “Everybody’s trying to get off on different service streets and cutting each other off. It’s very frustrating.”

A pedestrian killed around the same time on Coors near Iliff helped bring rush hour traffic to a standstill.

“It’s frustrating that there’s construction on top of that in every direction that you go to and everybody’s trying to move and it’s hard,” Griego said.

APD said deadly crashes are treated like crime scenes.

“This isn’t a normal accident where we can push everyone off to the side of the road and open up traffic again,” Tixier said. “We have to collect evidence, we have to take proper documentation, we have to take measurements. OMI has to arrive on scene, do their investigation and take custody of the body.”

Tixier said drivers shouldn’t be afraid to take an alternate route.

“You only have a finite number of avenues across the river and many of those are only two lanes, so any time I-40 particularly and Paseo, secondarily, gets blocked or backed up, you’re going to have severe congestion throughout the city,” he said. “If you’re typically always heading north to get on I-40 but a southbound journey to Bridge isn’t that far out of your way, maybe thinking backwards to go forwards isn’t always a bad idea.”

Drivers said there was no secret route to get to work Thursday.

“No matter which way you go because between accidents and the ART program, you’re kind of stuck,” said Labor of Love owner, Jacqueline Griego.

“I typically take Coors to I-40 and exit at Rio Grande, so after hearing the news this morning I decided to go Alameda to Rio Grande and it took me a good 40 minutes just to get from McMahon to the Alameda/Rio Grande turnoff,” said Raquel Walling of Albuquerque.

What doesn’t help matters are the red lights on off-ramps as lines of cars wait to get off the interstate.

APD said it has officers block the entry to the crime scene, but not direct drivers and wave cars through intersections.

“There are so many different routes around, we won’t be able to put an officer at every single point along the detour route,” Tixier said.

Long closures from crashes present an issue frustrating drivers around the country and some cities have vowed to clean up crashes much faster.

In Phoenix, the police department has cut the average closure time in half — down to an hour.

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