Sunday, February 12, 2006

Talking traffic...

Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of having to wait for traffic and weather on the 8's, you could just call a phone number to see what's causing the back-up on the road you're on and whether your alternate routes are also snarled. Well, you can...just not in Maryland.

Assigned in 2000 by the Federal Communications Commission, the expectation was that motorists would call 511 to receive - and perhaps provide - more route-specific information than most radio stations' 30-second traffic reports offer, and they wouldn't have to wait every 10 minutes or so to hear it.

However, State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck noted that there are several studies under way: one in Northern Virginia for the national capital region 511, one for a Maryland statewide 511 and one for a Baltimore region 511. Buck cautioned, however, that implementing 511 in Maryland would require additional funding that is not under consideration. For 511 to happen, Buck said, "It is likely we will look at the potential of teaming up with private industry partners."

But the challenges extend beyond funding issues, Buck said. "The national and local challenge with 511 is the real-time database that an interactive voice recording system must link to for the system to provide useful info," he said. The database must include not only roadway information, but also mass transportation and airport information, involving a huge data collection and data fusion effort across several jurisdictions and agencies.

So there are challenges? So what? Doesn't Maryland have some of the worst traffic in the country? Aren't we a pretty connected (and wealthy) state? Yes, we've got a great traffic monitoring website, but what good is that when you're driving?

Anyway, if we already collect all this traffic data for the web and disseminate to local broadcasters, shouldn't we have the same information available to motorists via cell phone? They are, after all, the ones actually stuck in the traffic.

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