511 Alaska service sees upgrade

Dec 29, 2019

Finding out about highway conditions in Alaska got a lot easier Friday, as the Alaska Department of Transportation rolled out a new 511 traveler information system.

Caitlin Frye, northern region information officer for DOT, says the new system can be accessed by calling 511, visiting 511.alaska.gov or downloading the new 511 Alaska mobile app.

“We’re kind of bringing our 511 system into the modern age, Frye said. “Our old system was not really built for how people get information these days, especially on mobile devices. It’ll have a lot of new features that we’re really hoping will be able to give drivers a fuller picture about road conditions, and just make it easier to find information.”

There are several additions and improvements to the new system. First off, the interface is responsive, so it should work and be easy to navigate on computer screens or phone screens.

Second, there’s more information available. The new version still has webcams available, but now there are more camera sites and more views available at each site. The system also integrates National Weather Service forecasts and traffic speed data.

There’s also a place for user-submitted data. Drivers using the Waze app can submit reports on road conditions, accidents or traffic other hazards, and viewers can choose to see those alerts.

“You can customize this 511 to make it particular to the routes that you drive and get alerts about the things that are important to you,” Frye said.

The new system also includes a navigation function.

“And it will not only tell you where to turn and what directions to take but it will also tell you what’s coming up in terms of road construction or road conditions or alerts, and that will speak to you from your mobile device while you’re on your drive,” Frye said.

Frye says the new 511 system will be easier for DOT workers and contractors to use, as well. They’ll still have to manually input condition reports and alerts but they can now do so remotely from their phones. Though, not while driving, of course.

Frye says the funding for the new system comes from the federal level. The revamp came because the state’s contract with the previous 511 system provider expired, freeing DOT up to look for a new contractor that could move the system forward.

“One of the big changes of this is that you’ll have multiple sources of information,” Frye said. “… We’re hoping that providing more sources of information will give people a broader picture about what they’re getting into if they decide to travel.”

The new 511 system went live at 4 a.m. Dec. 27. Users must visit the new site, still at 511.alaka.gov, to sign up for a 511 account to get text or email alerts and to customize their 511 experience. Any old 511 apps should be deleted and the new one downloaded from your app provider of choice.