It’s been a blessing and a curse.
Winter storms that have dumped generous amounts of snow in Idaho’s mountains – and frequently at lower elevations – have brought smiles to water users who desperately need replenished snow packs to recharge summer irrigation supplies.
Those same storms bring a sense of fulfillment to snowplow operators who thrive on winter challenges.
But for travelers, the storms are creating headaches, delays, and tragically some serious crashes.
Idaho’s 511 Traveler Services system helps motorists make safe, informed travel decisions. Demand for information about highway and weather conditions – both from the interactive Web site (511.idaho.gov) that features a new high bandwidth option and the telephone system – have increased dramatically since the season’s first major snowstorm. And it is putting increased pressure on maintenance personnel to keep information current.
A number of Web site users have asked for clarification about how often ITD updates the information. The process begins with maintenance personnel responsible for keeping highways safe and passable. Their normal responsibilities include updates scheduled twice daily on weekdays and once on weekends.
However, if conditions change between the scheduled reports to the State Communications Center in Meridian, ITD personnel provide interim reports. That protocol is designed to give the most current information available during changing weather and highway conditions. The Web site includes a time stamp that indicates when the information was updated.
If Web reports remain unchanged for several hours – even up to 24 hours on weekends – it’s an indication that highway conditions likely have not changed.
Information that ITD personnel provide to State Comm is manually entered into the 511 system for viewing on the Web by travelers. Those 511 updates also are translated automatically into voice reports that are available for motorists who opt to dial 5-1-1.
“Our maintenance crews do an outstanding job of providing the updates,” explains Alison Lantz, 511 Systems Manager. “Their first responsibility is to keep the highways safe and passable, but they also play an increasingly vital role in reporting conditions to State Comm, so travelers can make winter plans.
“There is a lot of work that takes place behind the scenes to make our 511 Traveler Services system accurate and timely. But the bottom line is our system still is heavily dependant on human input. Most travelers understand that and truly appreciate the service we provide.”
Idaho’s 511 Traveler Services system was introduced in 2005 and has constantly evolved since then to include the latest, most appropriate enhancements available. Members of the multi-state consortium continuously identify improvements specific to their needs, but those enhancements also are available for other members to adopt.
Some of the improvements Idaho has made to its system have been incorporated into other 511 states.
“It’s important to realize that 511 is a constantly evolving system. We want it to be a service that meets the needs and expectations of our customers. That requires us to respond to changing needs and to anticipate future needs.
“We really appreciate the comments we receive from the public because that input helps keep us moving forward.”