April 1, 2003 By Government Technology
"We've seen a 1,000 percent increase in use of the 511 number this year, and there is every indication we're just going to keep growing," said Virginia's Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement.
511 Virginia's first anniversary month of February 2003 also proved to be one of its biggest months, officials said, with a record 24,337 calls received and 18,624 unique visitors to the Web site.
Virginia launched its 511 system in the western part of the commonwealth in Feb. 2002, making it one of 12 states offering 511 either statewide or along specific corridors or regions. A national transportation goal is to provide 511 in all 50 states, and Virginia officials said they plan to expand the state's 511 service statewide in two years.
511 Virginia was also recently named a finalist for the 2003 Best of ITS Awards, a program of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America to select the year's most outstanding examples of surface transportation technology. Winners will be announced in May.
Users of Virginia's travel service simply punch in 5-1-1 on their wireless or traditional landline phones to get real-time information about accidents, construction and traffic delays, as well as popular travel amenities such as the location of hotels, restaurants and gas stations. The system is voice-activated, making it quick and safe because no additional keypad entries are necessary. Before trip departure, Internet users can log on to the 511 Web site to find the same information.
511 Virginia is a service of the Virginia Department of Transportation in partnership with Shenandoah Telecommunications Company and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
"Our 511 service has several features that set us apart," said William "Todd" Kell, 511 project manager. "We're different because callers can get hotel and restaurant locations, information on tourism sites, even details on the closest hospital. And we make it easy: Through voice activation, 511 Virginia connects callers to the services they seek. Within minutes, they are talking with a hotel manager or making reservations for dinner."
Real-time traffic and incident information for 511 Virginia comes from VDOT's Emergency Operations Center in Richmond and the Virginia State Police dispatcher's office. Also, two cameras feed info to the Web site -- one on the top of Afton Mountain on Interstate 64 in Augusta County, and the other on the campus of Shenandoah University at I-81's Exit 313 in Winchester. Additional cameras are planned along I-81.
To promote use of the phone number, VDOT posted 511 signs about every 10 miles along I-81 and on some adjacent roads such as I-581 in Roanoke. Additionally, when traffic conditions warrant, messages are posted on overhead signs referring motorists to 511.
Nationally, transportation officials are planning for 511 to be used by citizens as routinely as 411 is used for directory assistance and 911 for emergency assistance. 511 could replace more than 300 l0-digit phone numbers currently providing travel information in various regions around the country. The FCC expects to review 511's national progress in 2005.