Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

When weather acts up, drivers’ assistant is 511

Motorists can find out about conditions on freeways and roads in Arizona and 25 other states by using their cell phones.

By dialing 511, drivers can find out which major state and federal roads are closed because of the weather or other causes.

The Arizona Department of Transportation began making the information available online and through cell phones in 2002, said Diane D’Angelo, ADOT spokeswoman.

Drivers in the know Monday morning dialed 511 and were guided to information after Sunday night’s snowstorm.

That would have also been helpful information if you were on Interstate 10 heading toward New Mexico on Sunday: The freeway at the border of The Land of Enchantment was closed.

“It is very helpful during a storm season, like right now,” D’Angelo said.

The system is limited to federal highways, such as Interstates 10 and 19, and state roads such as state Route 89 – Oracle Road – as it passes through the Tucson metro area.

It doesn’t cover surface streets in either the city or Pima County – yet.

“The eventual goal is to be able to dial 511 and get information between states or municipalities,” D’Angelo said.

Plans also include upgrading the system to allow use of hand-held devices such as the Blackbird, she added.

A “back-door number” also will get callers into the 511 system: 888-411-ROAD.

The system still has bugs, D’Angelo said. One is the feature that allows callers to opt for voice prompting for information.

It often doesn’t work well, she said.

For now, drivers are better off following the system touch-tone prompt to obtain information, D’Angelo said.

The information is not limited to local, weather-related road conditions. It’s also handy for planning trips and avoiding wrecks or construction.

“Drivers can know the road conditions in their destinations,” she said.

The system began in 2000, when the Federal Communications Commission designated 511 as the travel information number for all states and jurisdictions in the country.

The federal agency left implementation of the 511 program to states and other governmental jurisdictions.

Drivers can call the Pima County Sheriff’s Department for a taped update of road conditions at 547-7510.

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