PICACHO, AZ - Heavy winds can mean deadly dust for us here in Arizona.
Huge brown clouds that blow over our freeways can blind and confuse drivers, flying down the road at 75 miles an hour.
Arizona Department of Transportation officials say they've done a study and learned that there have been 85 dust-related crashes along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, and almost half of those crashes took place around milepost 214, which is by Eloy.
Tom Herrmann, a spokesman for ADOT, said they have now identified that area as their dust protection zone and work is now taking place to install new technology that will help keep drivers safe.
It's a one of a kind pilot project that is a first in the nation.
"You'll see radar equipment along the sides of these roads to identify visibility around the freeway much like weather radars. You'll see electronic message boards and closed-circuit cameras," Herrmann said.
The goal was to notify drivers about an upcoming dust storm miles before they hit it.
"This will give us advance information. Let drivers know maybe there's a dust storm 5 miles ahead; maybe I should pull off at exit 219, wait and let it pass," Herrmann said.
He advised that the best protection from a dust storm was to try not to drive into one.
However, if you do find yourself in the middle of one, Herrmann says the best course of action is to "pull aside, stay alive."
"If you can't see a safe distance in front of you, pull off. Go as far off as you can. Take your foot off your brake, so nobody sees your tail lights and tries to follow you through, and wait it out," Herrmann said.
ADOT has also unveiled a new app "ADOT alerts" that will notify you of dust storms or crashes ahead as you drive.
Along with the technology, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials also outlined several projects they have been involved in to keep the dust down.
Jamie Abbott, an Air Compliance Quality Compliance Unit Monitor with ADEQ, said the overall goal was public health and public safety.
Particulate matter found in dust, hazardous to your health, along with public safety issues involving drivers were their biggest concerns, according to Abbott.
Most of the dust came from open fields, desert land, and farms surrounding the freeway.
ADEQ officials had been working with "gorilla snot" and "soil cement" to keep the dust down.
"It's a chemical added to water. You apply it to the ground, and it forms a hard crust that keeps the dust stabilized," Abbott explained.
ADEQ officials put out this press release outlining all of the efforts taking place this week:
When winds pick up, dust kicks up. Along stretches of I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, dust can become so severe, visibility drops for drivers causing serious, even deadly, accidents. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is taking steps to solve this issue by going to the source.
Over the last year, the I-10 Dust Group has taken measures to address blowing dust during periods of high wind along I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. Led by ADEQ, this group includes representatives from other Arizona state and county agencies, as well as tribes and neighboring state agencies. Through a collaborative effort this group has:
• Successfully completed the first pilot soil stabilization project near mile marker 214 on I-10 near Picacho Peak, which is a hotspot for dust-related accidents.
• Developed a process to collectively respond to new localized dust events and observations.
• Developed a dust report form that is used by all Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) field staff to report dust events to the group.
The I-10 Dust Group continues their work to identify additional parcels of concern and to develop plans for mitigation. Additional projects are planned for 2018.
Details on the Pilot Soil Stabilization Project near mile marker 214:
Approximately 60 acres of land, adjacent to I-10, was treated with Soil-Sement, a soil stabilization product. The parcel of land treated was identified by the I-10 Dust Group as directly related to previous accidents and is almost completely void of vegetation. The soil stabilizer application was completed in September 20, 2017. On September 29, 2017, sedimentation monitor devices were placed by University of Arizona and Pinal County Air Quality Department at both the south and north ends of the property to monitor soil that may move onto and off of the treated parcel. Monitoring of the devices in November showed no sediment collected and the surface remains stable, without any visible dust emissions. Funding for this project was provided by ADEQ.