The Federal Communications Commission assigned 511 as a number for travelers to call for up-to-the-minute traffic and transportation information.
A nationwide number, local jurisdictions will decide how it will be used in their areas. Since the number is not federally mandated, areas are not required to use it.
"It's going to just explode," said Bill Jones of the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. "Congestion is just too big of a problem."
A number of states already began switching over or preparing to install 511 and many jurisdictions should have them in place by the first half of next year, said Jones. There are currently more than 300 local numbers nationwide to call for travel-related information. The 511 number will provide travelers a recognizable number that can be accessed anywhere.
"No matter where you go, you'll be able to get information," he says. "When people have information, they are able to make good choices about transportation."
The number will initially cover highway and transit. Travelers will be able to check on routes, modes and times of travel.
The federal government provided a framework, but use of the number depends on state and local needs. The estimated cost of converting an existing traveler information number is less than $50,000, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT established a $5 million grant to help jurisdictions make the switch. Implementation and conversion to 511 are eligible for federal highway funding and individual areas can receive funding up to $50,000.
The DOT suggest the following as some guidelines for implementing 511:
Make sure you have regional cooperation.
Designate a single person or agency to deal with state regulatory agencies or telecommunications carriers.
Decide who will take the call, the agency or the phone company.
Determine if callers will have free access to the service or if there will be a per-call surcharge.
For more on 511 go to www.its.dot.gov/511/511.htm.