On a stretch of Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, sensors placed along the highway set off an alert: Dust, whipped up by gusting wind, is creating dangerous driving conditions.
Immediately, overhead electronic message boards alert drivers to the threat ahead. Programmable signs next to the highway show a speed limit reduced from 75 mph to as slow as 35 mph. Closed-circuit cameras allow staff at the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Traffic Operations Center in Phoenix to see the real-time conditions on the roadway, while in-pavement sensors report the speed and flow of traffic.
This month, ADOT engineers are beginning design work to turn that seemingly futuristic vision into reality along a 10-mile stretch of I-10 where dust storms often develop suddenly.
Installation of the state-of-the-art dust-detection system is expected to begin by late next summer between milepost 209 near Eloy and milepost 219 near Picacho Peak, and the system could be in operation by fall 2018 or early 2019.
Sensors placed near the freeway will be able to detect dust as far as a mile or more away. That will give ADOT crews a chance to monitor conditions and alert the public about potentially hazardous situations.
Once the system is in use and evaluated, similar warning systems could be used in other dust-prone areas, including I-10 in both western and southeastern Arizona, and I-40.
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