Arizona offers road updates via 511

Through a grant from the U.S. Transportation Department, Arizona has became the third state to keep its residents updated on traffic conditions through the 511 national traveler information telephone number.

The state collects traffic and roadway information in a database and uses text-to-voice software to translate it into the 511 system.

Arizona officials hope the system will ease roadway congestion and make traveling easier. The state also provides information through its traveler Web site, at www.az511.com.

Arizona joined Nebraska and Utah as the only states that have statewide 511. But 20 others have received federal funding to develop systems. The I-81 corridor in Virginia and the Cincinnati metropolitan area also have 511 systems.

The federal Transportation Department set up a nationwide system to unify many state and local traveler information systems. There are more than 300 numbers across the country'11 between Washington and New York City alone, said Jeff Paniati, Intelligent Transportation Systems program manager for the department.

You can call me

In 1999, Transportation petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a three-digit traveler information telephone number that would be used nationwide.

The FCC in July 2000 approved 511 as that number. Transportation agreed to provide $100,000 in funding per state to help implement the new system.

States have been putting their systems in place to collect, process and translate traffic data from text to voice, and then use the Web, e-mail or telecommunications to inform travelers.

'The hope is to provide a richer set of information to draw from that is in real time and will get better over time,' Paniati said. 'We are trying to capture the knowledge about travel conditions available through either people or technology, and give it to folks who are traveling.'

Federal and state transportation departments, industry groups such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and telecommunications companies worked together to develop standards for a 511 system that would provide consistent information, Paniati said.

Arizona built on the existing Highway Closure and Restriction System. The new system lets state, city and county officials update data through a Web browser, said Tim Wolfe, Arizona assistant state engineer for transportation technology.

Easy on the update

Arizona IT employees recoded the old client-server system into Java to move it to the Web. They also added ArcIMS from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., to the app to let officials update the transportation map more easily, Wolfe said.

Traffic information is collected from 90 operations centers and construction offices across the state and entered into a database from Sybase Inc. running on two Sun Microsystems Enterprise 450 servers under Solaris.

Pathfinder software from Vodavi Technology Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., translates the data to voice.

Other states are considering Extensible Markup Language voice translation, but Wolfe said Arizona stayed with Vodavi because it had used the software before setting up the 511 system.

Wolfe said Arizona DOT upgraded its phone system to handle 48 calls at once and likely will go to 96 lines after 511 gains popularity. The federal funds paid for the new system's technology and additional phone lines, Wolfe said, but the state must pay for marketing and for each 511 call.

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