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Meet ARAN, the high-tech van helping find cracks and potholes on Phoenix streets

Posted at 6:21 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-31 21:06:14-05

PHOENIX — The City of Phoenix is using a high-tech van to help detect which roads in Phoenix need to be repaired and how extensively, but also how quickly they're breaking down.

It's called ARAN — which stands for Automated Road Analyzer — or "Detective ARAN" to city officials, and it's a converted Mercedes Sprinter van.

ARAN has been roaming city streets for two years now looking for cracks and potholes, among other imperfections.

"One of the main pieces of equipment are these two boxes, they are the infrared laser cameras," said Ryan Stevens, who works within the city's Street Transportation Department. He gave ABC15 a tour of ARAN.

"Infrared lasers, infrared cameras, and sophisticated GPS allow it to do its job," he said.

With nearly five years of driving under its hood, ARAN has traveled some 37,000 miles along Phoenix's streets. For comparison, there are about 5,000 miles of roadway within the city of Phoenix.

"It allows us to make objective decisions about the pavement condition and what the city is going to do about it," Stevens said.

"ARAN collects data about all sorts of pavement distresses, primarily cracking roughness, rutting," he said.

That includes potholes.

Data from ARAN has her neighborhood near 28th Street and McDowell Road near the top of the list for requiring street repairs.

"Potholes are definitely an issue and I would not like to get stuck in a pothole and have my tire pop or something because of it," said Jessica Rodriguez, who lives in the area.

She wants them gone, but she also found a way to utilize them to her advantage — the rocking motion while driving apparently helps calm her baby enough to go to sleep.

"We use them as a baby calmer," she said.

The City of Phoenix also said that it doesn't solely rely on ARAN's data to determine which roads to fix and when; complaints from citizens and residents are also heard.

"We also do hear from our residents, and where those two align is a real win-win for us in terms of setting priorities," said Stevens.

ARAN cost a million dollars. While some questioned the high price tag then, Stevens said the investment has already paid for itself because the city no longer has to hire a contractor to do the same analysis.

He added that the city has spent $30-$50 million on pavement projects throughout the city and their Accelerated Pavement Maintenance Program now has a $200 million budget.

"It’s definitely worth that investment," he said.

Rodriguez, a Phoenix resident, agreed.

"If the city is going out of the way to be able to find those areas or where the potholes are at, I think that's very good of them, very smart of them to do that," she said.