Just in time for the latest round of inclement winter weather, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has rolled out enhancements to its popular traveler information service.
Over the past two winters, 511mn.org has been used frequently by travelers. Between January 2014 to December 15, 2016, travelers checked the website nearly 19 million times to get current road conditions and find out where there are crashes and construction before heading out. Now they can do even more.
A new feature allows registered users to "Personalize 511" and save up to 20 routes that they regularly drive. That allows them to get instant information about problems or hazards they may encounter on their routes. Users can also click on a specific incident to see a camera view.
Smartphone users can get the same information sent directly to their phones through the site's companion app. It's free to create an account.
For those without accounts or drivers who just want to quick glance at the state or metro area map by accessing the main site, a new orange glow will surround crash symbols to indicate a significant delay or back up. By clicking on the crash icon, drivers can get information about the crash, which direction of travel is impacted and how long the delay is.
Red triangles appear over a weather station icon when conditions such as fog, high winds, rain, ice and snow are present.
And for those interested in taking a short online course, there is the ability to report road conditions that will be uploaded to the site. That is much like becoming an approved weather spotter, said Kelly Kennedy Braunig, MnDOT's 511 program manager.
“Overall, the 511 traveler information system is getting better each year and more people are using it,” she said. “These new features will help the traveling public make good decisions about winter travel.”
In the coming months, perhaps as soon as the middle of January, motorists may have a tool to see snow plow locations in real time. MnDOT is developing and testing a system that would be integrated into its 511 information service. The new feature would operate much like one employed by the Iowa Department of Transportation, with a few differences.
MnDOT plows equipped with cameras would take pictures every few minutes. The photos would then show up on 511 allowing drivers to see current location of a plow and see where the plow has been.
"We get a lot of calls from people saying where's the plow?" Kennedy Braunig said. "They'd be able to look at this and see that a plow was out there."