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Publication Number:      Date:  January/February 2004
Issue No: Vol. 67 No. 4
Date: January/February 2004


Internet Watch

by Keri A. Funderburg

FHWA Honors Top Traveler

Information Sites

Traffic congestion is a fact of life for many people, partic-ularly those living in urban areas. According to the Texas Transportation Institute's 2002 Urban Mobility Study, the average delay per road traveler during peak travel periods is 62 hours per yearÑthat adds up to more than 2.5 days per year spent sitting in traffic. These days, many agencies and organizations post traffic information on the Internet, such as interactive route maps and live photos and videos showing traffic hotspots. In September 2003, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced the winners of the third annual national awards for traveler information Web sites. These sites provide easy access to up-to-the-minute information about safety and mobility on U.S. roadways. This year's winners are the Georgia "NAVIGATOR" site; the Washington State Department of Transportation's "WSDOT Traffic and Weather" site; the "TRIMARC" Web site, operated by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation (DOT); and the "GCM Travel" site, covering the Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee area.

Georgia on My Mind (and in My Car)

In 1996 the Georgia DOT launched NAVIGATOR (www.georgianavigator.com) in preparation for the Olympic Games in Atlanta. The original site primarily featured event-related traffic information. Since the conclusion of the Olympic Games, Georgia DOT has kept the site active and now provides statewide traffic and travel information. The site features up-to-date information on incident locations, interactive maps showing work zones and areas of congestion, customized trip times, weather and roadway conditions, and real-time video from traffic surveillance cameras. A seasonal section features maps of evacuation routes and procedures for use in the event of a hurricane.

Georgia DOT uses a three-step process to gather information for NAVIGATOR. First, employees at the transportation management center monitor roadways and collect real-time travel, congestion, and incident information from video cameras along the interstates and telephone calls to a special traffic hotline. They then confirm each incident by identifying the problem, the cause, and the effect on the roadway. Finally, the traffic managers communicate the information to travelers via the Web site and dynamic message signs.

Georgia DOT continually searches for ways to improve the site. "Future enhancements to NAVIGATOR will enable users to customize their visits to the Web site," says Charlene F. Njoroge, public relations specialist for Georgia DOT. "Users will be able to use a ÔMy Navigator' link to create their own favorite routes, camera images, maps, and travel time links."

A Washington Winner

In Washington State, the WSDOT Traffic and Weather site (www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic) provides travelers with reports and forecasts on statewide traffic, weather, and road conditions, including roadway temperatures, incident blockages, construction, and highway advisories along mountain passes. The site also features a clickable map that integrates data from satellites, radar, road temperature models, and other sources onto one screen. Using the link "Puget Sound Flow Map," visitors can find real-time travel times and live camera stills for the 10 most popular commutes in the Seattle area. And a link to travel routes provides reports on heavily traveled sections of the State's highway network.

According to Laura Merritt, interactive communications manager at WSDOT, the site launched in 1996. "Some really smart WSDOT engineers recognized they had access to traffic information that the public might find useful," she says. "The engineers then started spending time in their off-hours developing the first Web interface to display the traffic information." Since the site went live, travelers are not the only group to find the site useful. Many transportation managers also visit the site to help make decisions about deploying snowplows and other road-clearing devices and when and where to apply deicing compounds.

TRIMARC Hits Its Mark

Developed through a cooperative effort between the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana DOT, TRIMARC (www.trimarc.org) is short for Traffic Response and Incident Management Assisting the River Cities. The Web site features traffic information for the interstate highway system within the greater Louisville, KY, and southern Indiana urban area. An interactive map enables users to access travel times, information posted on dynamic message signs, real-time images from traffic cameras, and information on the location of construction and incidents.

In addition to providing regular, daily travel information, TRIMARC also has been instrumental during special events in the Louisville area. During a fireworks festival, Thunder Over Louisville, for example, the site provided information on parking and traffic routes. In addition, when inclement weather makes aerial surveillance impossible, the private companies that collect and distribute traffic data often use the site because TRIMARC monitors more freeway miles than they do.

The Web site is just one part of the freeway management system in the region. "One of our major objectives is to convey traffic information to the community by various means," says Barney Leslie, TRIMARC program manager. "In addition to the Web site, we also operate dynamic message signs along the roadway, a highway advisory radio system, and even a morning television program on Louisville's government access channel."

A Two-Time Winner

For the second year in a row, FHWA honored the GCM Travel Web site (www.gcmtravel.com). Covering three States and 16 counties, the site features traffic and travel information from the State DOTs in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin for travel in the Gary, Chicago, and Milwaukee transportation corridors. The three agencies distribute travel information through a state-of-the-art data-sharing system that enables users to link to maps covering the three metropolitan areas and the entire travel corridor. The maps display traffic conditions as color-coded congestion levels and use various icons to illustrate incident, construction, transit, and airport data. The icons are organized into graphic layers that users can turn on or off to access more detailed information.

In addition to the maps, text pages on the site provide traffic information in a tabular format. Web users can customize the text pages by selecting their own routes of interest using the "My Travel" feature.

According to David Zavattero, ITS program manager at Illinois DOT, the site received nearly five million hits in September 2003 alone. "Many of these hits were from the media and commercial information services that, in turn, provide the real-time traffic information to the public or through their own Web sites," Zavattero says. "And, of course, there are large numbers of individual travelers using the site every day to help them plan their trips."

To select the winners of the 2003 awards, FHWA reviewed 276 Web sites from across the United States, evaluating them for content and usability. The content evaluation was based on whether the sites provided information on current conditions such as incidents, construction notices, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and tolls. Usability criteria included the organization of the site, the ease of navigation, and the presentation of information to users.

Keri A. Funderburg is a contributing editor for Public Roads.




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