Historically NMDOT has successfully partnered with private landowners and other government agencies to provide support for land restoration and stabilization along Interstate-40 and along Interstate-25 in areas emitting dust affecting visibility for the traveling public.
As a response to a particularly serious crash on Interstate-10 near Lordsburg in 2014, we identified several regional hot spots prone to crashes and road closures and initiated a three phase mitigation program to address them. More details on the mitigation program are provided below.
Partnering with the NM State Police (NMSP), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), State Land Office (SLO), the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), private landowners, New Mexico State University (NMSU), and several consultants the NMDOT has designed and installed mitigation treatments as well as monitoring systems to gauge their effectiveness.
LORDSBURG PLAYA DUST STORM EVENTS
1965–Present: Over 40 dust-related highway deaths
2012–Present: 21 deaths, 39 closures of I-10, 120 dust events
Land Use: The Lordsburg Playa is a 25-30 square mile dried lake bed located in New Mexico between mile markers 5 and 13 on Interstate-10. The playa lays on the north and south sides of the highway with dust storms potentially originating on either side of the highway and from multiple directions. The BLM and SLO own most of the 16,000 acre Lordsburg Playa and lease their acreages out for cattle grazing. There is not much forage there for cattle and the playa surface tends to be broken up when cattle cross between feeding sites. This frees up sand and dust to be picked up by the wind, contributing to dust emissions. The BLM has an environmental designation called an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) which, for public health reasons in this case, may restrict grazing and modify leases. NMDOT is working with the cooperating ranching community and the BLM to see if and ACEC designation can be made which would require a new management plan for this area, possibly restricting grazing to a high intensity short duration model as found in other arid lands.
Highway Closures: NMDOT works with New Mexico State Police to cruise Interstate-10 and watch for dust storm conditions. The highway is closed (in cooperation with Arizona counterparts) if weather/soil conditions merit. There are also permanent road signs warning of dust storm conditions. From January 2014 to June 2017, Interstate-10 near the Lordsburg Playa has been closed 27 times due to blowing dust; 10 of those 27 closures were conducted in coordination with Arizona DOT due to blowing dust issues in Arizona. For example, Interstate-10 was closed on June 21, 2017 after the National Weather Service had visual confirmation of the presence of dust storms. Traffic was diverted onto U.S. 70 on both New Mexico and Arizona side.
Signage: The NMDOT has deployed static and electronic message boards to alert the traveling public of dust hazards in real time. Static or fixed signs warn of dust storm risks and direct motorists to pull off highway during a dust storm. Electronic message boards are illuminated with warnings when winds are high.
Mitigation: The NMDOT initially received a $500,000 grant to reduce windborne dust at the Lordsburg Playa and at a site on U.S. 180. Working with national experts on mitigation as well as with the USDA NRCS, NMDOT implemented re-vegetation and other measures to reduce the amount of windborne dust. Additionally, NMDOT received $175,000 in funds to monitor the restored sites and $250,000 for a germplasm (seed) development program to develop local varieties of restoration grasses and forbs adapted to this area. In 2021, NMDOT received an additional $1 million to expand and continue mitigation efforts as planned in Phase IIIb.
Mitigation Phase I
Mitigation Phase I: Phase I entailed the restoration of 140 acres of degraded private and SLO land north of Deming at milepost 151 on the west side of U.S. 180. Fencing was installed, grazing was restricted, and a combination of deep chiseling, plowing and drill seeding were done in November 2016. Crust formation and revival of native and seeded vegetation effectively stopped dust emissions from this site. Formerly U.S. 180 in this area had frequent road closures and at least one fatality attributed to dust.
Mitigation Phase II
Mitigation Phase II: Phase II involves over 200 acres of land within the Lordsburg Playa at the southeast corner of the Road Forks exit at milepost 7 on Interstate-10 and N.M. 80. Through satellite imagery, we determined this was the source of the dust contributing to the April, 2014 crash which claimed 7 lives. Through a land transfer with the BLM, the NMDOT installed fencing to eliminate grazing, graded to re-establish hydrologic flow blocked by ranching activities, and imprinted and over-seeded approximately 13 acres of land along the western shoreline. As of 2021, establishment of crust on soil surfaces and native and seeded vegetation has diminished dust emissions as indicated by instrumentation monitored by NMSU.
Mitigation Phase IIIa & IIIb
Mitigation Phases IIIa and IIIb: Phase IIIa involves approximately 750 acres of land north of I-10 along the western shore line. The treatments are similar to those implemented in Phase II and are located on SLO land. Field mitigation work was completed in fall of 2020. Fencing the site is expected to be completed in summer of 2021.
Phase IIIb is in the planning stages to identity additional acreages to be treated. Treatments will likely be conducted on SLO land or BLM land.
Dust Storm Detection/Prediction
Dust Storm Detection/Prediction: The El Paso National Weather Service has identified a new weather tracking module that may be useful in predicting major dust storms (haboobs), so NMDOT will support their efforts to acquire that module. NMSU has recommended that additional cameras be placed at the Lordsburg Playa.
The Lordsburg Playa, a 25-30 square mile dried lake bed, is located in southwestern New Mexico. The playa exists on the north and south sides of I-10 where dust storms have the potential to originate on either side of the interstate and from multiple directions.
Dust Storm Crashes
Dust storm crashes have been an ongoing hazard in the Lordsburg Playa. For example, in 1998, dust storms caused four fatalities on I-10.
NMDOT works with New Mexico State Police to cruise I-10 and watch for dust storm conditions.
Static or fixed signs warn of dust storm risks and direct motorists to pull off highway during a dust storm.
Natural Resources Section Manager
NMDOT Environmental Bureau
Roadside Environment Design Section Manager
NMDOT Environmental Bureau