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First-in-the-nation ADOT dust detection system enters third monsoon season

dust detection system
Posted at 10:52 AM, Jun 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-24 13:56:18-04

ELOY, AZ — With monsoon storms comes the potential for dust storms, Arizona Department of Transportation has a first-of-its-kind dust detection system designed to alert drivers to reduce speed.

The system is set up on a 10-mile stretch along the I-10 between Eloy and Picacho Peak.

"We have 13 visibility detectors in this corridor," said ADOT Spokesperson Garin Groff.

Groff says this is the third season for the dust detection warning system, but it hasn't been triggered much.

"In the first monsoon season, it was more of a non-soon. We didn't have many storms," he said.

Groff said last season's monsoon storms produced so much rain that it significantly limited the amount of dust. But the few times the detection system did spring into action, it worked as it should.

"When the dust reaches a certain threshold, the system automatically adjusts variable speed limit signs, reducing the speed limit from the usual 75 mph to a slowest 35 mph," he said.

Groff says this is the only such detection system in the entire nation. It uses high-tech sensors that monitor both the dust in the air and the speed of cars on the road.

"It's all existing off-the-shelf technology that's proven. It's just that no one has put all of these components together in the same way," Groff said.

Groff says the detection warning system also has its own radar, designed specifically to track dust.

"This radar can help see storms really up close in ways that the existing Phoenix and Tucson radar can't do," he said.

Groff says the goal of the system is to enhance safety for drivers.

ABC15 asked drivers if they knew what to do if they were caught in a dust storm.

"Ah... yeah," said driver, Glen Dockham. "Pull over, drop your lights, ahh... Roll up your windows? I don't know. That's about it."

While Dockham was close, driver Dan Wright nailed the correct answer.

"Pull over to the side of the road, make sure your lights are off, and keep your foot off the break pedal. That's because other people, they might think you're still on the road and it's easy to get into a bad accident that way," Wright said.

According to limited data ADOT has been able to collect so far, Groff says the system is working and people are slowing down.

He says if the system proves effective, they'll consider expanding it across the state.

"So we're piloting it, and taking a look at its performance, and determining whether it makes sense to use this in other parts of the state," he said.

Groff says other agencies both in state and throughout the country are closely watching data and results as well.