Decades ago, before Interstate 10 was overcrowded in Pinal County and it was new, there was a safety problem caused by blowing dust during the summer monsoon season. That problem has continued to the present day. However, new technology is addressing the issue on a key stretch of the highway from Eloy to Picacho Peak, and that welcome improvement could be a model in other areas.
Planning to widen I-10 to three lanes on each side is progressing slowly north of Casa Grande, but most of the road between Casa Grande and Tucson was widened in stretches several years ago. Two parts were skipped because of challenges that needed to be fixed, but those were constructed recently. Along with straightening the curve in Picacho, that area now includes an innovative warning system that will slow traffic when a storm is approaching.
When a storm is near or in the area, drivers will be warned about changing speed limits. Those can be reduced from 75 mph down to as low as 35 mph. Feedback signs will warn drivers of their actual speed. Dust sensors in the area are complemented by radar that can see approaching storms more than 40 miles away, with monitoring done by ADOT in Phoenix.
The Arizona Department of Transportation maintains its traditional advice of avoiding travel during stormy weather and taking an exit or, when caught in low visibility, to pull off the roadway with vehicle lights and brakes off. However, the new system adds an important new dimension just as the monsoon season starts officially.
Decades ago, the state put out signs that could be activated with general warnings advising motorists to use caution and reduce speed. Those later, after much expense, were determined to be not very effective and were removed. The new system, much more sophisticated, is likely to be worth the expense and very beneficial.
Technology will not eliminate the danger of dust storms on I-10, but it clearly will make the road safer.