Lanes being added to U.S. 491 in Northwest New Mexico

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One of New Mexico’s most dangerous routes is about to get safer thanks to a $31 million grant provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The U.S. Department of Transportation signed an agreement with the Navajo Nation’s Division of Transportation to provide money for two new lanes and separate north- and southbound traffic along U.S. 491.

“Recovery funds will help make U.S. 491 a much safer route for families who depend on it,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says. “In addition, it will also create much-needed good-paying jobs for people in this part of the state.”

The grant is part of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program included in the Recovery Act to promote innovative multimodal and multijurisdictional transportation projects that provide significant economic and environmental benefits to an entire metropolitan area, region or the nation.

U.S. 491 is the primary north-south highway in the rural northwest part of the state. It is a major trucking route, with increasingly high traffic volumes, that connects the Navajo Nation to emergency, medical, education and other vital services in New Mexico, Colorado and the Four Corners area. According to NMDOT data, the fatality rate at the north portion of the corridor is about 3.6 times the state average and, at the south portion, about 2.2 times the state’s average rate.

“This grant will help begin the work needed to keep drivers safe in and around northwest New Mexico,” says Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. “Rebuilding our infrastructure and strengthening the economy in economically distressed areas like McKinley and San Juan Counties is at the heart of the Recovery Act’s mission.”

The full project will expand the width of U.S. 491 over a corridor length of about 69 miles, constructing two new lanes adjacent to the two existing lanes. Additional safety improvements include constructing turn lanes for acceleration and deceleration in commercial and high-traffic areas, and improving intersections, signage, markings and drainage facilities.

DOT announced the selection of $1.5 billion worth of TIGER grants for 51 projects as part of the one-year anniversary of the Recovery Act on Feb. 17.