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Some drivers experiencing windshield cracks from passing motorists on under-repair La Plata Highway

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FARMINGTON — A retired La Plata resident says loose gravel flung from a passing motorist on N.M. Highway 170 — better known as the La Plata Highway — caused a crack that over a matter of days had zigzagged across her car's driver's side window. Another crack several inches long also formed on her windshield.

Rita Jaquez Arnold said she was driving to Farmington on Sept. 15 when a truck passed her and splattered her car with gravel.

A chip seal project intended to fix potholes on the aging highway left loose gravel on the road. That gravel, coupled with speeding drivers, can cause damage to vehicles, as Jaquez Arnold experienced.

Because of the risk to vehicles, the New Mexico Department of Transportation lowers the speed limit when crews are installing a chip seal, according to department spokeswoman Rosanne Rodriguez.

La Plata resident Charlie Blasingame said the speed limit was reduced to 45 mph for the project, and there are multiple signs posted along the highway.

"People are driving too fast," he said. "If they would slow down, you wouldn't have a problem."

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He said he has known several people who have multiple chips in their windshield from the gravel.

The chip seal process involves applying a protective surface to the existing pavement, Rodriguez said. In an email, she said gravel is spread on the road over a thin layer of liquid asphalt. Rodriguez said the gravel is a half inch or less in size.

It takes two days for the new surface to properly cure, and motorists can drive over the surface at reduced speeds while it is curing, according to Rodriguez. After the curing is finished, the loose gravel is swept from the surface.

Rodriguez said NMDOT uses signs to warn drivers to slow down and reduces the speed limit on the road during the chip seal process. She said people driving the La Plata Highway should follow the reduced speed limits to avoid damaging other cars.

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The chip seal process prevents water from penetrating the surface of the highway and extends the life of existing pavement, she said. It also reduces glare during rain storms and increases the reflective surface for people driving at night. Other advantages include minimizing the effects of aging and reducing the likelihood of a car skidding on wet pavement.

Rodriguez said the chip seal process costs 15 to 20 percent of what it would take to do an entire pavement overlay.

If people have had their windshield broken by gravel during the chip seal process, they can submit a tort liability claim to the New Mexico Risk Management Division. Rodriguez said the risk management division will determine which claims are eligible for compensation.

Jaquez Arnold first got a chipped windshield at the beginning of September, which was replaced on Sept. 5. On Tuesday, she was at InstaGlass in Farmington getting the windshield replaced again, as well as her driver's side window. She pointed to several places on her hood where rocks have chipped the paint.

Jaquez Arnold said she was following the speed limit and slowed down to let a bus pull onto the highway. When she slowed down, several cars passed her. One car, which she described as a "big, brown Dodge truck" splattered gravel over her white SUV.

She said within minutes she noticed a "wiggly crack" almost 4 inches long. By the end of the day, the crack had expanded until it almost crossed the entire window.

Jaquez Arnold said she was glad to see work being done on the highway, which was covered in potholes.

"Everybody knew that the highway needed to be fixed," she said. "We are happy it's being fixed."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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