The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

September 3, 2012

Task force to study proposed 511 system

CHARLESTON — West Virginia regulators are establishing a task force to study the Division of Highways’ proposed new 511 traffic information system.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carrie Bly says the Public Service Commission study shouldn’t delay plans to unveil the new system this fall.

The Charleston Daily Mail reports that the new system is designed to give travelers access to the large volume of real-time data currently collected by the state. That includes information about accidents, construction, weather and other events that affect traffic across the state.

In late July, PSC staff members noted there was confusion in the past about rolling out statewide phone systems like 511. They recommended the commission set up informational meetings between the Division of Highways and telecommunications companies in the state to make sure the process goes smoothly.

Last week, commissioners agreed with a staff recommendation to create a task force to study the plan.

The Federal Communications Commission set aside the three-digit 511 code in 2000 to allow states to develop telephone systems that provide free travel information.

The Division of Highways hopes to use its Intelligent Transportation System, which receives real-time information from county computer-aided dispatch systems, to feed information to the new 511 system.

Although the 511 concept was originally intended to be a call-in system, West Virginia is planning to roll it out on multiple platforms. Those include a website — www.wv511.org — and smartphone app through which travelers can access weather maps, live radar and the messages placed on the dynamic message boards along highways.

The features are designed to help travelers spot potential problems and delays on state highways so they can adjust their travel plans.

The smartphone app will also have a text-to-voice notification feature to alert drivers about traffic issues in real-time, even while they’re traveling down the road.

The notifications will be tied through the phone’s GPS location features to help tailor notices to specific areas.

Pennsylvania plans to convert its Turnpike 511 system to a statewide system, but it isn’t scheduled to be online before West Virginia’s. Louisiana used its 511 system to help travelers evacuate areas as Hurricane Isaac approached.

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