Wrong-way alerts coming to new Las Vegas Valley interchanges

Wrong-way drivers will be seeing red by 2019.

The Nevada Department of Transportation is installing a radar-based warning system capable of detecting mixed-up motorists who drive against the flow of traffic at a pair of new freeway interchanges under construction in the Las Vegas Valley.

The technology is aimed at curbing wrong-way driving, which caused 279 crashes that resulted in 41 fatalities and 125 injuries statewide between 2005 and 2015, NDOT spokesman Tony Illia said.

“As wrong-way accidents become more commonplace, traffic professionals have been tasked with preventing these deadly collisions,” Illia said.

A pair of signs equipped with red, rapid-flashing beacons will be installed at the exit ramps for a $33.7 million freeway interchange scheduled to open in mid-2019 at Interstate 15 and Starr Avenue in the southwest valley.

The warning system is also slated for exit ramps at a new interchange scheduled to open by fall 2019 at Kyle Canyon Road and U.S. Highway 95 as part of a larger $64.6 million freeway improvement project in northwest Las Vegas.

The alert signs, which cost $100,000 to $150,000 apiece, are activated by radar that detects a vehicle entering the freeway from an exit ramp.

Flashing red lights and a “wrong way” sign will immediately warn the driver to turn around.

If that doesn’t happen, a closed-caption camera will capture an image of the wayward vehicle that’s immediately transmitted to the regional traffic control center, where workers can dispatch the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Red beacons aren’t allowed on freeways, but the Federal Highway Administration granted permission for NDOT to use the experiments with the lights as a way to alert wrong-way drivers.

Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Jason Buratczuk said wrong-way drivers typically fall into three categories: the elderly; people impaired by drugs or alcohol; and international tourists who might be unfamiliar with traffic signs in the United States.

Most tend to self-correct and head back in the right direction, but those who continue driving against traffic are usually cited before causing a head-on collision, Buratczuk said.

“You find a majority of wrong-way drivers during the overnight hours when it does happen, and we have to react quickly to avoid a disaster on the roadway,” Buratczuk said. “Like anything that’s going to promote safety on the roadways, we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to something like this going on the freeway.”

Before the system goes online in Las Vegas, the Arizona Department of Transportation plans to start a wrong-way warning system at 15 freeway interchanges along Interstate 17 in Phoenix.

Unlike Nevada’s radar-based system, Arizona will use 80 thermal cameras to detect vehicles trying to enter the freeway from an exit ramp, triggering an illuminated wrong-way sign and flashing lights, said Doug Nintzel, a spokesman for the Arizona transportation department.

Traffic engineers will study Arizona’s $3.7 million pilot program before determining whether to install the warning system in other areas of the state, Nintzel said.

“Ultimately, engineering, along with enforcement, can only be part of the response to wrong-way driving because this is first and foremost a driver behavior issue,” Nintzel said. “We certainly hope more can be done in our communities to stem that societal problem.”

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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