Maryland to offer 511 traffic news
Maryland's State Highway Administration will begin offering traffic information next fall through the 511 phone and Internet system. Maryland will be joining many other states, including Virginia, that now offer this very helpful service.
See the Virginia model here. Whether you are a commuter or a long-distance driver or just out to keep an appointment, 511 is very useful in planning a trip or checking on current traffic conditions.
If you dial 511 when the service becomes available in Maryland, you'll want to have a hands-free device. Then you'll work your way through automated prompts to get the information you need. The Virginia system is easy to use, both online and over the phone. I also follow Northern Virginia traffic information on 511's Twitter page, which offers frequent updates on current driving conditions.
The spread of these traffic information systems is most welcome. Traffic management, rather than construction, is the way of the future. That's partly out of necessity. The public supports very few major new investments in transportation infrastructure. But it also helps travelers get the most out of existing resources.
It does raise this issue: The more sources we have for current information about traffic, the more tempted we are to use them while we're driving. It's fine for a passenger go be checking traffic text on a mobile device, but a driver shouldn't be doing that. And a driver shouldn't be doing any one-handed steering to use the 511 phone system.
(I notice that WTOP periodically invites people to call in to the station, but urges them to pull over and stop at a safe location. Good for them.)
Maryland's traffic information
The new 511 system, like the others, will be available for free around the clock. The Maryland Board of Public Works recently approved a five-year, $4.7 million contract with Telvent of Rockville to design, build and operate the statewide system.
Maryland has been offering helpful information to drivers through its Web-based CHART system (Coordinated Highways Action Response Team), which now includes a mobile version. Among the CHART features that I like is the page that displays the same information as what's being posted on the overhead message boards along the state highways.
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