Harrisburg, PA – Less than a year after its creation, Governor Tom Wolf today announced that the administration’s initiative to provide motorists with information during long-term road closures, 511PAConnect, has earned several regional and international transportation awards.
“Following Winter Storm Jonas, I asked our agencies to develop a tool to better keep drivers informed about the status of accident cleanup and highway reopening and 511PAConnect was the innovative response,” said Governor Wolf. “511PAConnect is the first initiative of its kind to link directly to a targeted group of travelers who are being impacted by, or who are approaching, a large-scale emergency.”
Coordinated among the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), Pennsylvania State Police, and PA Turnpike Commission, the service recently earned four awards:
- 2017 Toll Excellence Award for Technology from the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association;
- 2017 Transportation Achievement Award for Operations from the Institute for Transportation Engineers;
- Outstanding ITS Project for 2017 from the Intelligent Transportation Society of New Jersey; and
- 2017 Project of the Year from the Mid-Atlantic Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
Through 511PAConnect, personnel from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the PA Turnpike identify a potential long-term closure and notify staff at the 24-hour Commonwealth Watch and Warning Center at the PA Emergency Management Agency, who issue an initial location-based alert to motorists in the area of the closure. Law enforcement also uses the alerting system to issue Amber Alerts for missing children.
“Governor Wolf tasked us with developing a service that would provide travelers and our agencies alike with valuable information during an incident,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said. “511PAConnect meets that goal and also aims to reach other motorists before they reach the impacted area so they can potentially avoid the incident altogether.”
Motorists who receive the alert have the option of registering for automatic text messages or phone call updates. Follow-up notifications are generated by Turnpike and PennDOT staff monitoring the closure. Once the incident is resolved, motorists who registered for the alerts are automatically unsubscribed and all personal data is scrubbed from the system.
“Being caught in any type of extended roadway closure is stressful for travelers who may be unfamiliar with their location as well as concerned how long the closure will last,” said PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton. “It’s comforting to know that someone is aware of your situation and you are receiving updates and regular safety messages. This can ease some of the stress and help to make stranded motorists feel better connected.”
PennDOT and the Turnpike offer a variety of tools to keep travelers informed during all levels of incidents — including the 511PA smartphone app, phone number, online sources and social media platforms — but 511PAConnect was the first initiative of its kind to link directly to a targeted group of travelers who are being impacted by, or who are approaching, a large-scale emergency.
“The 511PAConnect initiative was a collaborative effort that shows how state agencies can work together effectively for improved customer service to motorists,” said PEMA Director Richard D. Flinn Jr. “We are thrilled that the hard work our teams did is being recognized by other groups.”
Since the service was launched, PennDOT and the PA Turnpike used it a combined five times from December 2016 through March 2017. During four incidents, an average of 77 people opted in for follow-up incident messaging over an average of 222 minutes. The system was also activated to inform travelers of a planned exit closure in January.
“We are proud to work together with our government partners to create such a useful service to keep motorists aware and safe”, said Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker. “511PAConnect allows motorists to receive instant notifications regarding extended road closures and even Amber Alerts, which could prove invaluable when a child goes missing.”