Are you ready for winter? The Iowa DOT is. The agency’s traditional winter season runs from Oct. 15 to April 15. Craig Bargfrede from the Iowa DOT’s Office of Maintenance, said, “Most years, the start to the season is pretty uneventful, like we expect it to be this year. But we do everything we can to plan ahead and be ready to keep the roads in great shape should an early winter set in.”
With our hectic pace of life, we always seem to have somewhere we need to go. Since Iowa winters can be harsh and it is sometimes dangerous to travel, making the decision on whether to take the trip comes down to having the right information to make the safest choice for you and your family. To assist travelers with that travel decision, the Iowa DOT is beefing up its efforts to give motorists the most accurate information possible.
Bargfrede said, “Two of our main resources are www.511ia.org and our Web-based Iowa DOT snowplow map. These two websites work in tandem to offer people information on what’s happening on the roads.. We hope that gives the public options they can use to make safe choices to get to and from work, school, or wherever they need to go.”
Using 511 for traveler information has been a staple in Iowa for more than a decade. The site gives travelers information on road conditions, traffic incidents and road closures, tow bans and access to traffic cameras permanently installed along the roadway.
Updates this year include changes to the colors and definitions of road conditions you’ll see on the website. Sinclair Stolle, Iowa DOT 511 administrator, said, “Each year we try to improve the system by listening to what our customers tell us and making adjustments. Last year there was some confusion about the ‘travel not advised’ statement. This year we are dedicating a road color (purple) on the map to ‘travel not advised’ to assure people can clearly see the seriousness of the situation on the roadway. Customers also wanted to know how much snow and ice was on the pavement. That is now included in the comments when a road is designated as ‘travel not advised’.”
Stolle said, “A couple more changes we made after public feedback were to add ‘wet’ as its own light-blue road condition since a wet road with dropping temperatures could possibly turn slick. It’s just one more piece of information we hope will empower people to make better choices for their travel.”
The 511 website is offered in several different versions, modified to best meet your needs. The full-feature version is great on higher-speed Internet connections and includes a personalized alerts feature, images and video from approximately 350 traffic cameras, and winter tow bans. The streamlined version is for slower Internet speeds and uses static maps that load faster. Truckers have their own version with specialized information, including weigh stations and road restrictions. A mobile app is also available for your Android or iOS device. Just search your phone’s app store for Iowa 511.
Anyone can connect with 511 on social media. You can customize the 511 social media feed to your geographic location. To see all of the Facebook or Twitter options, go to www.iowadot.gov/511/socialmedia.html.
During a winter storm, wouldn’t it be great to know what the view from a windshield would look like on the road you want to take? You may be in luck. Last year the Iowa DOT introduced a website that allowed anyone to get a camera shot of current conditions out the windshield of snowplows across the state. The site also allows you to see exactly where Iowa DOT snowplows are working and if they are applying material to the roads.
Bargfrede said, “We started out testing a fairly small number of plow cams last year. Those tests went very well and, by the end of the season, we had almost 200 installed in vehicles around the state. This year that number will be closer to 400. The ability to get where you’re going safely is very important to all of us, but sometimes the decision not to travel is the best one. We’re trying to get the most information possible in the hands of those who need to travel so they can clearly see what the conditions look like behind the wheel and make that decision for themselves.”
Other enhancements to this website include real-time traffic information, variable message sign messages and traffic camera images. Bargfrede said, “When you look at the map and it shows that traffic is slow or stopped, it gives you a good indication that there’s a problem on that roadway. If there is a sign or camera nearby, you’ll be able to look at those to get an even better idea of what is going on. Those pieces of information can help you make safer choices and save you time and frustration. ”
For many reasons – work, school, shopping, recreation, just to name a few – the ability to get where you want to go is important to all of us. Iowa has one of the best transportation systems in the country. On most days, you can jump in a vehicle and get where you need to go without having to worry about the roads. One bad winter storm can change all that, at least temporarily. Having the best information to make safe choices can help assure that if you do travel, you can make it safely back home to your family.