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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-08-002    Date:  Jan/Feb 2008
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-08-002
Issue No: Vol. 71 No. 4
Date: Jan/Feb 2008


Internet Watch

by Brittany Boughter

Sites to Help Travelers Avoid Congestion

For those who set out to travel on roads and highways only to encounter construction or weather delays, the frustration associated with sitting in traffic is all too familiar. According to the Texas Transportation Institute's The 2007 Urban Mobility Report, the cost of congestion for urban Americans— including wasted travel time and extra expenditures for gasoline— is $78 billion. However, as technology improves, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has found new ways to save the public time and money by providing useful congestion information for motorists before they leave the house.

FHWA's "National Traffic and Road Closure Information" Web site (www.fhwa.dot.gov/trafficinfo/index.htm) is a clearinghouse for up-to-date information on congestion conditions nationwide. The homepage features a map of the United States, enabling site visitors to click on links to State-specific departments of transportation, regional transit options, 511® traveler information, real-time travel maps, weather forecasts, and reports on construction delays. The tailored information enables drivers to plan ahead to avoid detours, congestion, and dangerous weather conditions. The outcome means less time and money spent on travel.

In addition to the State links, the site also features a "What's New?" section (www.fhwa.dot.gov/trafficinfo/whatsnew.htm) where visitors can view recently updated traffic and road closure information by State. FHWA regularly updates this section, with 10 State Web sites added in October 2007 alone. The newest information includes links to highway condition maps in Wyoming; beat-the-traffic information in Memphis, TN; and real-time traffic information for Tucson, AZ.

Up to Date in Minnesota

Following the devastating Interstate 35W (I-35W) bridge collapse over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN, on August 1, 2007, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) created the "Interstate 35W Bridge Collapse" Web site (www.dot.state.mn.us/i35wbridge). In the aftermath of the collapse, the Mn/DOT site played a critical role in communicating up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions on I-35W. After the site opened on the night of the collapse, FHWA quickly followed suit and added the Mn/DOT Web site to the "What's New?" section of
its "National Traffic and Road Closure Information" Web site. This decision broadened the availability of information to a wider audience of concerned travelers.

"During the hours after the collapse, the site provided information about detours and alternate routes for the I-35W bridge," says Kay Korsgaard, Web coordinator for Mn/DOT. "Most major online news media linked to maps we posted on our site." Among other things, the page provided direct links to Minnesota's real-time Regional Transportation Management Center (www.dot.state.mn.us/tmc/index.html) information pages and traffic and road conditions at www.511mn.org.

"Mn/DOT decided early on to use the site to help get information directly to the public," continues Korsgaard. "Our goal was to be as transparent as possible in communicating news about the collapsed bridge and about the statewide bridge inspections that followed."

In the time since the bridge collapse, the site expanded to include inspection reports, video footage of the collapse, facts about the bridge, and plans for the new bridge. "The site even served as a virtual open house to supplement our more traditional outreach efforts for communicating plans about the new bridge," says Korsgaard. "Our online comment form generated more than 1,000 comments about Mn/DOT's plans for the new bridge."

Saving Time, Saving Money

FHWA's "National Traffic and Road Closure Information" Web site and Mn/DOT's "Interstate 35W Bridge Collapse" Web site give drivers the advantage of knowing road conditions before they step outside. Visitors to either site can access timely information that can reduce travel times drastically. With information on subjects from avoiding construction delays and congested roads to preparing for weather conditions and highway detours, these two sites might help reduce travel costs and, ultimately, congestion.

For more information, visit FHWA's "National Traffic and Road Closure Information" Web site at www.fhwa.dot.gov/trafficinfo/index.htm. For more information on Mn/DOT's "Interstate 35W Bridge Collapse" Web site, visit www.dot.state.mn.us/i35wbridge or contact Kay Korsgaard at 651-366-4267 or kay.korsgaard@dot.state.mn.us.

The FHWA 'National Traffic and Road Closure Information' Web site.
The FHWA "National Traffic and Road Closure Information" Web site.

Brittany Boughter is a contributing editor for Public Roads.



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