Arizona DOT utilized $6.5 million in FASTLANE grant funds to deploy dust detection system along I-10 stretch prone to blowing dust.

The ADOT system is designed to recognize an approaching dust storm, warn ADOT and drivers of potential threat, and slow drivers down to a safer speed.

Made Public Date

Along with the threat from monsoon storms in the summer and fall, conditions on stretches of I-10 are such that strong wind any time of the year can suddenly produce localized dust that severely reduces visibility, a phenomenon known as a dust channel.

Arizona DOT (ADOT) is completing installation of sensors, overhead message boards, variable speed limit signs, speed-feedback signs and closed-circuit cameras to create a first-of-its-kind dust detection and warning system between mileposts 209 and 219 – an area that is prone to these sudden dust storms. This stretch of I-10 is currently a Variable Speed Limit Corridor with programmable signs that work to instantly reduce the legal speed limit. Placed every 1,000 feet for the first mile in each direction and then every 2 miles, the variable speed limit signs can change from 75 mi/h to as slow as 35 mi/h when there is blowing dust.

Electronic message boards placed 5 miles apart in the pilot area will alert drivers to blowing dust, while ADOT traffic operators can use overhead message boards on the way toward the dust detection zone to warn drivers of potentially hazardous conditions ahead. Closed-circuit cameras will allow staff at ADOT's Traffic Operations Center in Phoenix to see the real-time conditions on the roadway, while in-pavement sensors will report the speed and flow of traffic. The warning system also includes weather radar, which will be mounted on a 20-foot tower at the State Route 87 interchange in Eloy, that can detect storms more than 40 miles away. This radar will complement 13 sensors mounted on posts next to the freeway that use beams of light to determine the density of dust particles in the air.

In addition to enhancing safety by providing earlier warnings about blowing dust, this innovative system will advance ADOT’s understanding of whether similar technology can be effective in other locations around Arizona. The system, costing about $6.5 million, is funded in part by a $54 million federal FASTLANE grant ADOT received for I-10 projects that also widened stretches between Eloy and Picacho and between Earley Road and Interstate 8 in Casa Grande to three lanes in each direction.

The prototype system is expected to begin operating in late 2019.