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Dust-storm warning system on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson months from completion

Posted at 8:34 AM, Mar 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-23 11:34:43-04

TUCSON — An Arizona project to provide travelers on Interstate 10 with timely warnings about potentially deadly low-visibility conditions from dust storms on a 10-mile stretch between Phoenix and Tucson is just months from completion.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that the system planned by the Arizona Department of Transportation will combine several technologies, including closed-circuit cameras, radar and digital warning signs.

"We want to build everybody's confidence that we're giving them reasonable information," said Martin Lauber, the senior engineering project manager at ADOT, during the eighth annual Arizona Dust Storm Workshop at Central Arizona College near Coolidge on March 5. "We're not going to ask motorists to do something that they know is unreasonable."

A $12.8 million federal grant is funding the project, which is expected to be installed by October.

As the main travel route between Arizona's two most populous cities, I-10 has seen the carnage of vehicles involved in some of the deadliest crashes in Arizona.

On Oct. 29, 2013, three people were killed in a 19-vehicle pileup during a dust storm along the stretch of I-10 where the system will go. Traffic on the interstate was backed up for 6 miles.

The system's radar system will supplement the National Weather Service's existing radar, and officials said they'll have a more accurate reading of activity at ground level. The radar provides a 40-mile coverage area to spot incoming activity.

"When dust storms start at the ground level, we can't see those on radar," said Ken Waters, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist. "This radar is going to give us that opportunity, and we're very excited about that."

Once that initial activity is spotted, NWS and ADOT will confirm and create the official alert for people in the region.

Overhead signs will display messages if there's reason to adhere to ADOT's "Pull Aside, Stay Alive" warning or provide other safety guidelines for motorists. Also, variable speed limit signs spaced out about 1,000 feet apart will tell drivers to slow down during a weather event. Speed limits would drop to 25 mph from 75 mph.