ELOY, Ariz. (KGUN) — Dust storms can happen at any-time in the state, but the Arizona Department of Transportation says this first-of-its-kind technology will hopefully help save lives.
“We are ready for the 2021 monsoon season,” said Garin Groff.
Groff, with the Arizona Department of Transportation, says drivers will surely see that once they pass a 10-mile section on I-10 between Picacho and Eloy.
“It is an automated system that can detect when dust starts to reduce visibility,” he told KGUN 9.
Groff says the key to the $6.5M system is having 13 visibility detectors.
“They use beams of light to detect dust particles in the air. Once that happens, the system will automatically activate variable speed limit signs and reduce the regular posted speed limit of 75 to as low as 35,” he added.
The variable speed limit is enforceable by law.
The most visible element of the system is a big white dome on a 20-foot tower, located at the interchange of I-10 and state route 87.
“That is a weather radar and ADOT is sharing that information with the National Weather Service so they have specific real-time information on what’s happening in this area,” said Meteorologist Ken Drozd.
Drozd works with the National Weather Service in Tucson.
This tower can detect a storm that’s up to 40 miles away, something he says will be beneficial for the National Weather Service.
“Hopefully that will supplement radars that we currently have in Phoenix and one in south Tucson. That’s the one located about midway between the two weather service radars,” Drozd added.
Four closed-circuit cameras are also located along the stretch, feeding live video into ADOT’s traffic operations center in Phoenix.
This gives them real-time information on traffic flow and conditions.
“Dust storms can create visibility down to zero where you really can’t see where you’re driving,” said Drozd.
“This is all about giving drivers more reaction time,” added Groff.
Reaction time is important, especially because dust storms have proven to be deadly.
“Our best advice for driving in a dust storm is to not drive in a dust storm. If you see a big wall of dust coming up, exit the highway as soon as you can,” said Groff.
“Pull off the road as far as you safely can. And then stop your car, put it in park, take your foot off the brake and turn the lights off. That way other vehicles behind you won’t see your taillights and might run into you,” Drozd told KGUN 9.
Regardless of technology on the road, Groff says nothing replaces common sense.
“Nothing replaces common sense. Drivers need to be aware of their surroundings at all times but especially on this section of I-10 on windy days or during the monsoon which takes place from mid-June to early September,” said Groff.