State to launch 511 traffic call service for travelers

The State Highway Administration has announced it will launch a free, round-the-clock "511" telephone service to provide real-time traffic information to travelers in the state.

The new system, provided by Televent of Rockville under a five-year contract with the state worth $4.7 million, will start in fall 2011, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The SHA will manage the statewide service, under which the contractor will collect traffic information from a variety of sources and provide it to travelers who place calls to 511. The information will also be made available through social network operators and a website. The 511 system is expected to later add a personalized service that will alert subscribers to traffic conditions via text messaging.

The announcement of the service comes less than a week after the state's new law banning the use of hand-held cell phones and other electronic devices while driving took effect.

Vernon Betkey, director of Maryland's Office of Highway Safety, said the state didn't intend the two events to coincide.

"It's just the way the timeline ended up," he said.

Betkey said the service is not intended to be used by drivers using a hand-held phone.

"We would not advocate anyone violating our cell phone law," he said. "We want to provide information."

He said the state would encourage drivers to make 511 calls before getting on the road or to pull over in a safe place before making calls.

About 40 state and municipal transportation agencies in the United States have moved to implement 511, a code the Federal Communications Commission has reserved for travel-related services. Televent has installed systems in California, Pennsylvania and New York.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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