Arizona has approved a $3.7 million project to construct a thermal detection system on I-17, billed as the first of its kind in the nation, that aims to detect wrong-way vehicles and alert other drivers and law enforcement of the danger. [UPDATE, July 28, 2017: Testing on the system is expected to begin early next year.]
The setup will be installed along I-17 from the Loop 101 down to the I-10, ADOT said in a statement Monday. Construction is expected to begin this fall and will take seven months, ADOT said, but it hopes to accelerate that schedule. Performance of this pilot phase, as it’s being called, will determine any possible future expansion to other locations.
Asked when the system might extend into North Phoenix, Anthem and New River, ADOT spokesperson Doug Nintzel could not commit. “As for other locations, we’ll take it a step at a time and explore options while looking at ideas on the table,” he told In&Out.
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The approval, from the State Transportation Board on Friday, comes on the heels of Gov. Doug Ducey’s June 7 request to accelerate approval, funding and construction of a system that was in the prototype stage at ADOT. Ducey made the request after another one of several deadly wrong-way collisions on or around I-17 this year.
The prototype of the system was in “the final design stage,” Nintzel said earlier this year.
How it Works
On freeway ramps, wrong-way vehicles will trigger alerts, including illuminated signs with flashing lights, designed to get errant drivers to stop. Overhead message boards on a 15-mile stretch of the interstate will warn other drivers. The system will also automatically focus ADOT cameras on the wrong-way vehicle and send automated alerts to the Highway Patrol, helping troopers intercept vehicles. Thermal cameras placed at 1-mile intervals will further alert law enforcement of a wrong-way vehicle’s movement.
“This system can reduce the risk, but it can’t prevent wrong-way driving,” ADOT admits. But it’s the best alternative the agency has come up with after studying the issue for years. (ADOT determined that spikes in the roadway won’t work, and can be dangerous by themselves.)
Wrong-way drivers killed 28 people last year out of a total of 950 Arizona traffic deaths.
The project requires approval from the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Council.
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