Nov. 22, 2002
For more information contact:
Phone Service and Winter Road Conditions Web site
AMES, Iowa – In an emergency, dial 911 for help. Want a phone number? Call 411. But if you’re looking for travel information, call 511.
Beginning Nov. 22, 2002, travelers in Iowa will have an easier way to get around-the-clock, changing winter road condition information. By simply dialing 511, travelers will be able to access Iowa’s first voice recognition travel information service.
Transportation, public safety and telecommunications officials were in Ames Friday to introduce the new 511 phone service and winter road condition Web site. The announcement was broadcast via the DOT’s videoconferencing network to regional sites in Des Moines, Mason City, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Atlantic and Fairfield.
“511 provides a safety net for those who travel on Iowa’s interstate and U.S. highway routes,” said Michael Jackson with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Research Bureau. “It offers travelers easy access to information valuable for both pre-trip planning and en route decision making.”
“We believe the enhancements to both the voice and Internet systems will provide the motoring public with the best information possible as they make their travel plans,” said Captain Darrell Cox, the State Patrol’s communication officer. “With a 50-plus year history of providing this type of information, we are extremely excited to continue our partnership with the Iowa DOT to provide this service.”
When in their vehicles, travelers can dial 511 and find out about current road conditions along their route. Aided by this information, motorists can determine whether conditions are suitable for continued travel.
REVAMPED WINTER ROAD CONDITION WEB SITE
In recent years, motorists received general information regarding Iowa’s highway conditions. For example, - “I-80 in eastern Iowa is 75 to 100 percent snow and ice covered.” With the new system, motorists will see/hear more detailed and meaningful messages, such as: normal, wet, partially covered, mostly covered, completely covered, travel not advised, or road closed. Explanations of these new road condition phrases are available on the DOT’s 511 information Web site at www.dot.state.ia.us/511.
WHERE DOES THE INFORMATION ORIGINATE?
This winter, state troopers from across Iowa will provide the Patrol’s five communications centers with up-to-the-minute surface conditions throughout the state. The communications centers will then enter this information into CARS. Next spring, DOT personnel will be entering information into CARS pertaining to road construction and maintenance activities.
Callers must speak slowly and distinctly for the voice recognition feature to function properly. If 511 fails to recognize a caller’s response, it will default to a touch key system.
The Iowa Department of Transportation and Patrol encourage motorists to use their wireless phones responsibly and safely, preferably not while driving. Remember, non-emergency parking along the interstate is illegal.
HOW 511 WORKS
PART OF A NATIONAL EFFORT
Those states that have already activated 511 service include: Kentucky (northern part of state), Ohio (City of Cincinnati), Nebraska (statewide), Utah (statewide), Virginia (regionally, I-81 corridor), Arizona (statewide), Florida (regionally, in the City of Orlando, and Miami, West Palm Beach, Dade, Broward and parts of Monroe counties), Minnesota (statewide), Washington (statewide), and California (San Francisco Bay area). Several other states plan to launch their service, along with Iowa, this month.
PARTICIPATING TELECOMMUNICATION CARRIERS
Significant credit goes to the Iowa Telecommunications Association and Rural Telephone Association for encouraging their members to participate. A list of participating companies is listed on the DOT’s Web site.
Some telecommunication companies are still in the process of making the switch to 511. Others have chosen not to provide 511 service to their customers. If Iowans experience difficulty reaching 511 from their phones, they should contact their service provider directly for assistance. The telecommunications customer service numbers are also listed on the DOT’s Web site.
Iowans who do not have access to 511 can still call 800-288-1047. Out-of-state callers must use the 800 number to access Iowa’s travel information.
Most PBX systems require the user to dial a single digit access code (typically and “8” or “9”) to reach an outside line. For callers to dial 511 directly, without entering the access code, a switch must be made in the company’s phone system.
Since 511 is a new service, it’s to be expected that some businesses will need time to make the switch before 511 calls can be made directly by their employees. In the meantime, callers may still dial 511 or the 800 number after entering their access code.
STATE’S INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC SAFETY
The estimated annual cost of $250,000 to operate 511 is being provided by the Iowa Department of Transportation. Eighty percent of those costs are covered by federal technology funds. The remaining 20 percent is supported by state highway funds.
COST TO USERS