Lasers to the rescue: System may ease traffic in N.M.

Mountain View Telegraph 
ALBUQUERQUE — Three-dimensional laser imaging technology may be part of the solution to road closures in Tijeras Canyon.

A demonstration of a laser scanning system is planned for legislators, the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department and the public on Friday.

The system is touted for reducing the time needed for traffic accident investigations - which can require closing the highway, quickly turning the canyon into a parking lot - by up to 50 percent.

"There's no doubt, it's amazing technology," said Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White.

White, a number of legislators and the New Mexico Department of Transportation are all looking for ways to keep traffic moving through Tijeras Canyon while accidents are investigated, or to simply make those investigations faster.

One reason for their interest was a five-car wreck on Aug. 22 that had I-40 closed for several hours.

The laser system may not be a flawless solution to the problem, however.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Brasher said the system may be similar to a system owned - but rarely used - by the city of Albuquerque.

He said a potential problem with these systems is they take longer to set up than it would take to do an investigation by traditional means.

"I have heard the same thing," White said. "That will be one of the questions I ask."

The presentation will be held Friday at 9 a.m. in the sheriff's conference room on the fifth floor at 400 Roma NW in Albuquerque.

The laser system is not the only method being considered to clear traffic jams in the canyon more quickly. Some efforts are decidedly more low-tech.

Metal gates are expected to be installed on four of Albuquerque's on-ramps and on the freeway by the end of this month.

The gates - similar to those used to close city parks to traffic - will be installed at the on-ramps to eastbound I-40 at Wyoming, Eubank, Juan Tabo and Tramway, as well as on eastbound I-40 itself at Tramway, according to New Mexico Department of Transportation District 3 Traffic Engineer Tony Abo.

He said the gates can be closed when traffic is stopped at Tijeras Canyon either for accident cleanup or severe weather conditions.

Abo said the gates will help free up a valuable resource: law enforcement officers who have been used in the past to stop freewaybound traffic at on-ramps, Abo said.

Having the ability to close the freeway may make it easier to clear the road of snow, according to Phil Gallegos, a public information officer for NMDOT.

Gallegos said NMDOT is also working with the city of Albuquerque to try to program traffic signals to move traffic more quickly.

Stoplights along Central Avenue leading into the canyon are being looked at, and Gallegos said programming also may be done on traffic signals from the freeway to the New Mexico State Fairgrounds.

Those locations can be used to get one of the major sources of congestion, semitrucks, off the road, Gallegos said.

"That whole area, Tramway and Central and Four Hills ... it turns into quite a tangle," Gallegos said. "People start piling up there and it's really difficult to get cleared out."

Working with law enforcement and government agencies on the issues is part of changing approach for NMDOT.

"We're trying to improve our relationship with the local law enforcement ... we're trying to work as a team now," Abo said.

Meetings already have been held with the Albuquerque Police Department, representatives from Albuquerque and Bernalillo County and other agencies including the Mid-Region Council of Governments, according to Gallegos.

He said, in part, the meetings were a response to the storms of last winter.

"Last year was kind of an anomaly to us ... it exposed some weaknesses," he said. "The biggest is probably communication."

Although NMDOT has a number of electronic message boards to communicate problems before motorists come across them, Gallegos said the department has not made the best use of the message boards in the past. NMDOT is now working to speed up the process of gathering information to inform motorists.

"If I know the road is closed 20 miles up, I'd rather know about it now ... the more advance notice you have, the more opportunity you have to control what you do and how you do it," Gallegos said.

NMDOT is also plans to monitor traffic through Tijeras Canyon by installing cameras at Carnuel, near N.M. 14 and at Sedillo Hill.  
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal

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