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VDOT Launches Statewide 511 System

February 17, 2005

Traffic updates and travel information—offered for all interstates throughout the state—recently became available by simply dialing 511. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced the launch of the 511 Virginia system, explaining that motorists will make better travel decisions with 511’s round-the-clock information on traffic incidents, road and weather conditions, work zones and much more.

“This service is very simple to use and is a great source of statewide traffic and travel information,” Connie Sorrell, chief of VDOT system operations, said. In addition to road and traffic reports, 511 also provides information on gas, food, lodging and transit connections.

Real-time traffic information from 511 Virginia is derived from two main sources – VDOT and the Virginia State Police.

“511 Virginia is unique because it uses information received directly from the source,” Sorrell said. “When the Virginia State Police respond to an accident, or when a VDOT representative updates construction information or information about how weather is affecting travel conditions – within minutes, this information is available on 511 Virginia.”

The service, which has been available for I-81 over the past three years, now covers all Virginia interstates, and in upcoming phases major primary routes will be added. It can be dialed from a wireless or landline phone from a home, office or vehicle. Because it is voice activated, the system can be used virtually hands-free. However, VDOT recommends drivers using wireless phones pull off to the side of the road before dialing.

Calling 511 costs the same as making a local call. Wireless phone users will incur no extra charges for calling 511, but it will use minutes on their calling plans (roaming charges may apply). Currently, all wireless carriers in Virginia are under contract for the 511 service. An agreement with Verizon for their landline service has not yet been reached. To access the system from a Verizon landline, callers must currently dial 1-800-578-4111. Out of state callers in Maryland, the District of Columbia or other border states can dial that toll-free number as well. The system also provides an option to transfer to the North Carolina or Kentucky 511 systems.

Sorrell spoke at the 511 launch. Other event speakers included Earl Bishop, executive vice president, Virginia Telecommunications Industry Association (VTIA); Craig Franklin, president, Intelligent Transportation Society of Virginia (ITSVA) and Trichord, Inc.; Jeff Paniati, associate administrator for Operations and acting manager for Intelligent Transportation Systems/Joint Program Office, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); and Whittington Clement, Secretary of Transportation.

Currently there is a 511 Virginia Web site, www.511Virginia.org, offering information for travelers of the I-81 Corridor. VDOT is upgrading the site to include statewide information and will make an announcement once it is complete. Between now and 2010, the 511 service will cost approximately $2 million a year, which is paid with federal ITS funds. Virginia is one of 22 states to offer a 511 service. By 2010, 511 is expected to be available across the country.

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