Travelers on Idaho's highways this winter can become better prepared for inclement weather and challenging driving conditions by checking the Idaho 511 Traveler Service Web site and telephone system before embarking on a trip.
Introduced last year as a successor to the Idaho road report, 511 uses emerging technology to convey current highway and weather conditions to motorists. Travelers can log onto the Web site at 511.Idaho.gov or access the statewide telephone reporting system by dialing 511. Information is available 24 hours a day about road closures, highway and weather conditions, mountain passes and the interstate highway system.
Callers can use voice prompts to select a region or highway to learn about current conditions and plan their trip accordingly. Calls to 511 are considered local when dialed from a landline telephone. Cell phone users are responsible for normal airtime and roaming charges as outlined in their cellular phone service contracts.
Most wireless companies in Idaho will connect to 511. Because of Idaho's diverse geography, cell service and 511 travel information may not be available in remote areas.
Winter travel information also is available graphically on the 511.Idaho.gov Web site. An interactive map enables Web users to retrieve information based on their preferred route. Advisories also clearly indicate any road closures and identify routes where travel is difficult.
Highway maintenance crews report on changing conditions, and the 511 Web site and telephone systems are updated in real time to provide travelers with the most current and accurate information available.
The Idaho Transportation Department committed an additional $210,000 this year for program enhancements that make reporting and retrieving conditions even easier and more efficient.
Most of the system improvements will occur behind the scenes and will not be immediately obvious to users, such as training for snowplow operators and data entry operators to improve accuracy and timeliness of reports, and automated instant notification of road closures and incidents to the news media and public agencies.
Truck operators will find all escape ramp locations clearly marked on the 511 Web site, along with any over legal restrictions. In response to input from users, ITD has made significant changes to the appearance and functionality of the 511.Idaho.gov Web site, making it easier to navigate.
Later this winter, ITD will introduce improved location descriptions, based on specific highway segments, improve map displays and begin using a text-to-speech feature that will significantly improve versatility of the 511 telephone system. The new text-to-speech feature will replicate written reports and eliminate the use of recorded telephone responses.
"We are committed to do everything possible to improve the safety of motorists who use Idaho highways," said ITD Director Dwight Bower. "The evolution of our 511 reporting system, both on the Web and on the telephone, improves the delivery of information that motorists need to make wise, safe decisions on winter travel."
In its first 11 months of operation, the 511 Web site was accessed more than 3.9 million times, including 846,015 times in December 2005. The telephone system received nearly 330,000 calls from November 2005 through September 2006.
"As people become more familiar with the system and learn about its capabilities as a safety tool for winter travel, we anticipate the use to continue to grow," said Alison Lantz, manager of ITD's system
"We made a number of significant changes during the first year of operation and have some exciting changes in the process that will make the system even more responsive to client demand."