Another day, another wrong-way crash on a metro Phoenix freeway, and more calls to do something about it.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety said that at 3:26 a.m. on Sunday, somebody reported a wrong-way vehicle going northbound in the southbound lanes of the Loop 101 exit ramp at McDowell Road in Scottsdale. The vehicle stopped, then started backing up the ramp and struck a concrete barrier wall, DPS said.
For a change, no one was hurt.
Police arrested 25-year-old Podave Riley of Tempe, and booked him into county jail. Police said on his booking sheet that his blood-alcohol level was around 0.17, more than double the legal limit. Two other motorists told police they had to swerve to avoid his car and feared they'd have been hurt if they hadn't.
Riley now has a court date early next week. Police suspect him of two counts of impaired driving, one count of extreme DUI and two counts of endangerment. He also faces two minor drugs charges from an unrelated case. Police had warrant for his arrest on those charges at the time of the traffic incident, court records said.
Not 36 hours later, ADOT announced today that it is ready to install a first-of-its kind detection and warning system to reduce the number of wrong-way freeway collisions.
The Arizona Transportation Board voted Friday to spend $3.7 million on the experimental system on Interstate 17, where the most fatal wrong-way crashes occur. On Good Friday, two GCU college students and a young man driving in the opposite direction were killed there.
ADOT is rolling out a system of thermal cameras, warning signs, and alerts to detect wrong-way drivers entering on an off-ramp, while instantaneously warning that driver, other drivers, and authorities of the danger posed.
Crews at ADOT will install the cameras and relay systems in the fall, between I-10 and Loop 101. The agency says it will take seven months to complete.
Last week, Governor Doug Ducey instructed ADOT to speed up deployment of the system after a spate of deadly wrong-way crashes, ADOT said. The project still needs approval from the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Council.
Once in place, it will work like this:
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 DPS 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.
In recent years, there have been accounts of wrong way drivers driving 10 miles or more before getting stopped, often catastrophically.
“This system can reduce the risk, but it can’t prevent wrong-way driving,” ADOT said in a press release.