Three years ago, during the heart of the winter driving season (Nov. through Feb.), 350,000 people checked the relatively new 511 Traveler Services to learn about travel conditions on Idaho highways.
Use of the free Web-based and telephone system has increased dramatically since then.
Two years ago, 511 travelers accessed the system 1.3 million times during the four winter months. Last year, the number grew to 2.1 million queries. This winter’s driving season is shaping up to be another big jump for 511 access, as November’s numbers reached a level nearly three times higher than in 2008.
ITD simplified the route-reporting process, enabling callers and Web users to select a portion of a highway for information retrieval. In the past, telephone callers had to listen to a report for the entire length of a specific highway, even when they only wanted to check a short segment.
As a result of the system improvements, travelers can obtain reports faster and reduce their telephone time. Users also can request that reports for their chosen section be described according to a preferred direction of travel, such as from east to west, or west to east.
The improved system identifies the location of events in reference to Idaho cities and towns, rather than mileposts or lesser-known geographic points, such as local roads, explains Alison Lantz, manager of the 511 system. A message now will indicate that an event is in a city, near a city or a number of miles in a specified direction from a city.
One of the recent improvements involves an RWIS (Roadway Weather Information System) feature being programmed into each traffic camera – every camera is expected to be RWIS-equipped by January - to relay wind speed, roadway surface conditions and other weather-related data to visitors to the camera Web site.
Several of the local media outlets issued stories on 511 within a few days of the personal visits.
The 511 system also offers an option for accessing information via handheld devices with Web browser capabilities.
ITD’s informational campaign emphasizes safe access of the 511 system, and strongly discourages use by drivers. Travel information should be obtained before leaving home or by a passenger in the vehicle. Drivers who want to obtain information should find a safe place to pull off the highway to call or check the mobile Web.