Ten people have died in wrong-way driver collisions on Arizona freeways this year, so don’t be too perturbed when you see a key interchange on Interstate 17 closed Friday night and Saturday morning.
That’s when Arizona Department of Transportation crews are installing a first-of-its-kind detection system to keep these drivers, typically impaired, from getting on the freeway in the first place.
ADOT is installing a $3.7-million pilot project to test a network of thermal cameras, alarm signals, alerts, and electronic message boards along 15 miles of I-17, starting at Indian School Road. The state began with I-17 because it’s where the highest concentration of fatal crashes has been in recent years.
The idea is that an integrated system will detect wrong-way drivers entering on an off-ramp, while instantaneously warning that driver, other drivers, and authorities of the danger posed.
ADOT said Wednesday that it started work a month early because the state agency preordered cameras, cables and other materials. The entire trial system will be installed next year.
Indian School Road will be closed at the I-17 overpass from Friday at 9 p.m. until Saturday at noon. ADOT will also close the on and off ramps there. After this weekend, other interchanges will be closed in the upcoming months, but not over the Labor Day weekend, ADOT said.
The thermal cameras detect a car entering I-17 on an off-ramp. That will trigger alerts, including flashing lights and lit-up signs, aimed at getting the wrong way driver to stop.
At the same time, the system will immediately warn other drivers through overhead message boards. The system instantly messages the Arizona Department of Public Safety and ADOT’s traffic control operation center.
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Nearby freeway cameras will automatically turn to face the wrong-way vehicle so traffic operators there can track its progress. Also along the freeway, thermal cameras every one mile will signal when a wrong-way vehicle passes.
Combined, these tools aim to get highway patrol troopers to the right location sooner. Currently, DPS relies on 911 calls, which are often late, inaccurate, and leave patrol cars scrambling to guess where to set up to safely intercept the dangerous driver.
Meanwhile, with the death toll from wrong-way freeway crashes mounting this year, safety officials continue to seek other ways to prevent such crashes.
“ADOT and its partner agencies, including DPS and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, continue to study other potential countermeasures to reduce the risk from wrong-way driving,” ADOT said.