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Wrong-way driver detection project approved for Phoenix freeway

(Flickr Photo/Alan Stark)
LISTEN: Governor Doug Ducey

PHOENIX — The state Transportation Board has approved a $3.7 million project to construct a thermal detection system on a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 17 that will detect wrong-way vehicles on the Phoenix freeway.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told the Arizona Department of Transportation last week to accelerate construction of the system after recent wrong-way crashes.

Ducey joined Mac & Gaydos on KTAR News 92.3 FM Monday evening and said that the wrong-way driving problem has “gotten worse over the last several years.”

“We’ve been dealing with this over the last couple of years,” Ducey said. “It’s, ‘how do we address this? What are best practices in other states?’ You don’t want to see one innocent life lost to any wrong-way driver.”

Construction of the thermal camera pilot system is expected to begin this fall on I-17 from Interstate 10 to Loop 101 with full installation taking seven months. Further expansion depends on how well the pilot system works.

The system will issue warning signs for wrong-way drivers and advisories for right-way drivers along the I-17 stretch.

Ducey said that they want to totally prevent the wrong-way driving in the first place, but that provides complications.

“What I’d really like to see are physical barriers so that this couldn’t happen, but there’s of course some complicated things with that,” Ducey said. “Typically when you can take the tires out, well that’s done in low-speed settings more often than not. We need first responders that often times need to get on the freeways going in the opposite direction.”

On freeway ramps, vehicles going in the wrong direction will trigger alerts including illuminated signs with flashing lights aimed at getting drivers to stop.

“We’re seeing in about 80 percent of these cases there is sever impairment of the person that is driving the wrong way, so there’s really no safe way to handle it except to get out of the way of that individual,” Ducey said.

“I think with the investment that we’re going to make in this, on these thermal cameras, Arizona will have an opportunity to lead and prevent and avoid these kind of senseless accidents.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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