Scene of deadly Gainesville crash to get warning system

GAINESVILLE — Almost two years after 11 people died on a fog-and-smoke-shrouded stretch on Interstate 75, transportation officials are set to install safety equipment warning motorists of deteriorating conditions.

Standard and infrared cameras, visibility sensors, dynamic messaging signs and vehicle detection devices will be set up south of Gainesville where I-75 crosses Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

Fog and smoke near there had mixed together just before the deadly, chain-reaction crash on Jan. 29, 2012.

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“Much of the technology on this project is the first of its kind in the state and is designed to prevent the type of crashes that occurred that day,” said Ananth Prasad, Florida Department of Transportation secretary.

Officials from DOT, the Florida Highway Patrol and various law enforcement agencies, and the city of Gainesville’s Traffic Management Center, attended an event this week to announce the start of the project.

The Gainesville Sun reported that DOT will install the equipment over the next year. Three large, overhead message signs will be installed — two approaching the prairie northbound and one southbound. The will also be 12 closed-circuit television cameras in the area.

The prairie is a low-lying stretch prone to fog when the air is moist and cool. On the afternoon before the crash, a brush fire broke out in the prairie and the smoke was a deadly mix with the fog in the early morning hours.

The Gainesville Traffic Management Center will monitor the cameras and sensors and alerts will be placed on the message boards. Signs will also be placed along U.S. 441, which parallels the interstate.

A thermal, heat-detecting camera will monitor heavy fog. And eight visibility sensors at car level will measure the fog. Along that stretch, 18 vehicle detectors will indicate whether traffic is moving.

“The thermal will be able to see through fog,” said Dan Dietrich, business development manager with FLIR Systems Inc. “They can see vehicles, occupants that are outside the vehicles — all sorts of things. It will give first responders more data.”

Dietrich said this is the first of its kind in Florida.

The work will cost about $2.1 million and should be completed by early next year, according to DOT.

State Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, has pushed for the safety measures.

“The goal isn’t just to do something, but to do something that will really have a meaningful effect on safety and drivers,” he said.