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Preparing for upcoming dust storms in Arizona

Posted at 3:19 AM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 10:00:14-05

It's a problem the Arizona Department of Transportation has been working on and is now just months away from a possible solution.

Dust storms, especially between Tucson and Phoenix and Tucson and the New Mexico state line, have resulted in numerous vehicle collisions that have lead to some fatalities.

But now with help from several municipalities, ADOT will begin construction on several projects that could make driving safer.

"We'll begin later this year, November/December time frame, to put in the dust detection zones. It'll take another 8, 9 or 10 months to put that in place. We should have this all complete by September/October of 2019," says ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann.

Hermann says ADOT's system will use short range radar positioned along I-10's dust corridors to know what the visibility is on I-10 when the dust storm blows in. It will also use long range radar that will look further out to let them know when a storm is on its way.

To help drivers, variable message signs will automatically activate to alert travelers between Tucson and Phoenix of the incoming dust storm. That will also trigger variable speed limit signs that will be placed along I-10. It will lower the 75 MPH speed limit to a safer speed.

"We're taking proven technology that we know will work and putting it together in a way that's never been done before," says Herrmann.

As a part of the plan, ADOT will also be widening I-10 north of Eloy.

"Because we're doing two projects at once here: we're widening I-10 and we're putting in the dust detection zone we're trying to coordinate that work so we can be efficient in the work that we're doing," Herrmann tells KGUN9. "We will put in the new lanes on I-10 and once we have those in place we'll be able to start putting in the radar detection that'll help us identify when the dust storms are coming to the new section of the highway."

To continue to develop new ways and evaluate goals of keep drivers safe during dust storms, officials from the National Weather Service, ADOT and other agencies will meet Tuesday in Casa Grande. It is part of an annual workshop that focuses on detecting storms and enhancing safety.

ADOT wants drivers to remember that in the event of a dust storm, "Pull Aside, Stay Alive."