A $3.7 million project to construct a first-in-the-nation thermal detection system, which will detect wrong-way vehicles and alert the other drivers and law enforcement of them on Interstate 17, was approved Friday afternoon by the State Transportation Board.
Last week, Governor Doug Ducey instructed the Arizona Department of Transportation to accelerate the construction of this system in light of recent wrong-way crashes, which resulted in Friday’s vote.
Construction of the thermal camera pilot system is expected to begin this fall on I-17 from I-10 to Loop 101. ADOT is exploring ways to begin construction even sooner. Full installation will take seven months, and the performance of this pilot will guide further expansion.
The system will take a three-phase approach when a wrong-way vehicle is detected: alerting wrong-way drivers so they can self-correct, warning right-way drivers and notifying law enforcement.
Once operational, the system will use thermal cameras, warning signs for wrong-way drivers and advisories for right-way drivers along a 15-mile stretch of I-17. In addition, the system will automatically focus highway cameras on the wrong-way vehicle and send automated alerts to the Highway Patrol, helping troopers intercept vehicles faster.
On freeway ramps, wrong-way vehicles will trigger alerts, including illuminated signs with flashing lights, aimed at getting drivers to stop. The system will immediately warn other drivers through overhead message boards as well as law enforcement. Cameras in the area will automatically turn to face the wrong-way vehicle so traffic operators can better track it. On the freeway, thermal cameras placed at one-mile intervals will signal when a wrong-way vehicle passes so State Troopers plan their response and get out in front of the wrong-way driver, providing a faster response.
While ADOT and the Arizona Department of Public Safety respond quickly to reports of wrong-way drivers, most incidents begin with 911 calls from other motorists. The advantages of this system begin with automatically alerting ADOT and DPS to wrong-way drivers at the point of entry and getting State Troopers to wrong-way vehicles faster.
This system can reduce the risk, but it can’t prevent wrong-way driving.
Phoenix-area freeways safely move hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day. When crashes do occur, research demonstrates that more than 90 percent of the time, the collision is the result of driver behavior – like speeding, reckless or distracted driving, or driving while impaired. Wrong-way crashes fit this pattern.
Beyond a detection system, coordination with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement is necessary to stop and intercept wrong-way drivers before they enter the highway system.
ADOT also continues to study new technologies that promote highway safety for all users, including tools for detection, tracking and notification of wrong-way drivers.
Following Friday’s action by the State Transportation Board, the project now requires approval from the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Council.