ITD's 511 system celebrates decade of service to Idaho travelers
BOISE - The similarities are striking. The first significant snowfall in the valley is just around the corner, just as it was 10 years ago. Thanksgiving travel is almost here, again. The main difference is that a decade ago, Idaho's 511 traveler advisory system had yet to be launched. More than 22.5 million visits later, an enhanced 511 service thrives, bringing a new level of service and trip preparation to Idaho drivers.
More than a dozen enhancements have been made since the 511 system was unveiled. In addition to four state awards, the system was recognized in 2010 with a national President's Transportation Award for Traffic Safety by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“Technology in the digital world moves at an ever-accelerating pace,” explained ITD’s 511 manager, Tony Ernest. “Our 511 system has tried hard to keep up with trends and deliver traveler information to the public in whatever form they currently expect to receive it.”
The system began on Nov. 22, 2005. The first snowfall came two days later, as many people were embarking on holiday travel. Prior to the 511 system, ITD used a primitive way of communicating winter road conditions to the public — a 90-second telephone read. Each day, an ITD employee made a recording as he or she read the road conditions from across the state. A caller frequently had to suffer through the full 90 seconds to get to the information they wanted.
With the launch of the 511 system, people could just dial 5-1-1 to connect to an interactive phone system based on voice recognition. They could get detailed up-to-the-minute reports of travel conditions, and only on those highways they cared about. At the same time, ITD rolled out its first 511 website.
“It was primitive by today’s standards, but it still gave citizens their first web access to ITD’s current road conditions,” said Ernest.
“Since then, 511 development has moved rapidly,” he said. “Two years after our initial roll-out, we introduced a new high-bandwidth website, offering a user interface based on Google Maps, with zoomable map views and a much wider range of features.”
“In late August 2015, we rolled out a third generation of the 511 website, replacing our ‘Full Feature’ high-bandwidth web offering,” said Ernest. “The new site offers all the functionality of the earlier high-bandwidth site, with a bunch of new features and a more intuitive user interface. The system upgrade also features a display of all messages currently active on ITD’s permanent Variable Message Signs across the state on all of our websites.”
Idaho’s system came about as the result of a Federal Communications Commission ruling in 2000 designating 511 as the nation’s traveler information phone number.
Questions? Visit us online at itd.idaho.gov, follow ITD on Twitter (@IdahoITD) or Facebook and check travel conditions at 511.idaho.gov or dial 5-1-1. Please slow down in highway construction zones and pay attention. Safety for drivers and workers is our highest priority.