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ADOT to install technology to help detect dust storms on I-10

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Transportation is aiming to make the drive on the Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson safer during the monsoon season with its new dust detection project.

The department is using existing technology in a way that has never been done before, in order to provide drivers with information that can keep them safer in a dust storm.

“We are putting together short range radar that will tell us what visibility is right along the freeway and long range radar to look out into the desert to see what storms are coming,” spokesman Tom Herrmann told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

The radar will be able to detect dust particles in real-time. The information will then be broadcast to drivers.

“It doesn’t do ADOT any good to have all that knowledge and not share that with drivers,” Herrmann said. “So we are going to be doing several things for drivers in the area between Eloy and Picacho Peak.”

Electronic message boards as well as the dust detection technology will be installed between mileposts 209 and 219 to relay information about road conditions. In addition, closed-circuit freeway cameras will be set into place so ADOT traffic operators in Phoenix can view the situation in real time.

“We will have something that has never been done on Arizona freeways before and that is variable speed limits.” Herrmann promised.

Speed limits will slow drivers from 75 mph to 35 mph, dropping 10 mph for each 1,000 feet to allow drivers time to safely reduce their speed.

Herrmann said the department hopes the variable speed enforcement will “prevent crashes because it gives drivers more time to react. The secondary benefit will be if there are crashes, they are a lot safer if they are at 35 mph and not 75 mph.”

When the ADOT dust detection radar recognizes low visibility, the slower speed limits and safety messaging will be automatic with no delay.

The Arizona Department of Transportation conducted a study of all the dust related crashes on the I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson between 2010 and 2015 which indicated 85 crashes. Half of those crashes (43) occurred between mile 212 and 214.

ADOT anticipates the dust detection radar system to be active next monsoon season.

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