ADOT’s dust detection system named as a ‘Gamechanger’

System receives more national recognition for innovation, safety focus

Dust Detection System

The first-of-its-kind dust detection and warning system installed by the Arizona Department of Transportation has been named one of the “Infrastructure Gamechangers” by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The detection system, which was completed by ADOT on a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson in 2020, is among only four highway-related projects recognized nationally this year by the ASCE. The organization recognizes groundbreaking projects that represent the latest advancements in the way engineers plan, build and adapt to infrastructure needs. 

In announcing the national “Gamechangers,” ASCE President Jean-Louis Briaud said, “With resources stretched thin, finding solutions that can make the most of the tools afforded us can driver safety, variable speed corridor, be a challenge, but is an essential component of improving the built environment. ADOT’s dust-monitoring system will keep drivers safe and I-10 drivers moving efficiently. This project highlights the innovative nature of civil engineers, adapting to unique challenges to ensure our systems better serve the public.”

ADOT State Engineer Dallas Hammit added, “This recognition by our engineering peers is gratifying because it acknowledges the tremendous innovation and creativity that has gone into developing a system that will greatly enhance safety for drivers travelling through what can sometimes be a very challenging environment.”

Driving on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson during summer monsoon months can be hazardous when windblown dust reduces visibility, causing dangerous driving conditions. This technology has created an unprecedented innovation that helps increase driver safety. 

“Safety is our first priority and this first-of-its-kind technology answers a real need to make a very busy portion of highway much safer for motorists. It has already proven its effectiveness in recent dust storm events,” said Brent Cain, the director of ADOT’s Transportation Systems Management and Operations Division “Being chosen as an ASCE Gamechanger is a great honor.”

Drivers passing through the detection and warning zone encounter signs saying “Caution: Variable Speed Limit Corridor.” Soon after, a series of programmable speed limit signs every 1,000 feet can change the legal speed limit from 75 mph to as low as 35 mph. Additional variable speed limit signs are placed every 2 miles.

Overhead electronic message boards in and near the corridor alert drivers to blowing dust and warn them to slow down. Speed feedback signs inform drivers of their actual speeds.

Thirteen visibility sensors mounted on posts along the freeway use light beams to determine the density of dust particles in the air. Once visibility drops to certain levels, the system activates overhead message boards and the variable speed limit signs.

The sensors are complemented by a weather radar on a 20-foot tower at I-10 and State Route 87. It can detect storms more than 40 miles away, providing additional warning of incoming storms to ADOT and forecasters at the National Weather Service.

This technology is monitored by ADOT’s Traffic Operations Center in Phoenix, where staff can see real-time information on conditions such as the speed and flow of traffic. Closed-circuit cameras provide visual confirmation of conditions along the roadway and in the distance.

For additional information on dust storms and safety: www.pullasidestayalive.org