116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa updates 511 travel app
It’s easier to use, aims to help drivers make ‘informed decisions’ during winter, construction seasons
The updated 511 travel app from the Iowa Department of Transportation aims to make driving easier and safer during the construction and winter seasons.
The app — free on for Apple and Android devices — was updated in early October with new features and a user-friendly interface. The new design matches the 511 website for a consistent user experience, said Sinclair Stolle, Iowa DOT’s traffic management systems engineer.
The features, Stolle said, can help drivers make “that informed decision for safer and more efficient travels.”
“Know before you go,” Stolle said, which is the 511 tagline.
Among the app’s new features is the ability to look at “nearby events” that could impact travel, such as construction and crashes.
The trip planner tool helps drivers map their route with travel times, road conditions and alternate routes. Users can save their routes.
Users also can turn on weather radar and weather station alerts — a feature that will be helpful heading into winter, Stolle said. .
Drivers can look at snowplow progress and road conditions to see if it’s safe to leave immediately or wait until conditions improve, Stolle said.
The app also offers views from traffic cameras along major routes.
“Really check the roads before you go and look at the road conditions,” Stolle said. “A picture's worth a thousand words — look at the cameras that we have.”
Features that carried over from the previous version include the ability to turn on and off layers that display information on the map. Layers include unplanned traffic events, construction, rest areas and more.
The layers can be turned on and off for a customized view, Stolle said.
Users also have the ability to receive hands-free, eyes-free audio announcements of traffic events as they’re driving.
The app will show a “knowledge cone” and will share information as the driver approaches a traffic event, Stolle said.
"Check (the app) before you head out on the road or have a passenger do it,“ Stolle said. ”We don't want to encourage any use of it while you're actually driving unless you put it in the ‘tell me’ mode.“
Other states have their own 511 app through their DOTs, but Stolle said she isn’t aware of any plan to do a nationwide 511 app, which would be challenging, given that states have different features on their apps.
“I don't think there will be a nationwide branded 511 app, but I do see DOTs providing standardized data to third parties for ingestion into their already existing nationwide apps, like Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps,” Stolle said.
There are efforts to standardize the data coming from state DOTs through the U.S. DOT’s work zone data exchange, which will help with third-party integration of data nationwide. Stolle said that effort is focused on road construction but could expand to unplanned events.
Drivers who use the same route while commuting can sign up for the app and save their route, Stolle said.
After opening a 511 account, users can access their saved routes, traffic cameras and other information on both the website and the app, Stolle said.
“Sometimes people find it's easier to save routes on a bigger screen, so if you want to do that, and you can save it, then you can also access it on your phone,” Stolle said.
It’s also possible to sign up for text or email alerts to arrive at a certain time to get notifications of what is happening along the route, Stolle added. The alerts can be customized to cover the construction or unplanned events the driver wants to know about.
Commercial drivers who previously used the Iowa 511 Trucker app also can use the updated 511 app. Features for commercial drivers have been added to the updated app, and the Trucker app will be retired later this year.
Commercial drivers just need to tap the “truck toggle” to view restrictions, truck parking information and weigh station locations.
To download the app, go to the Apple or Google Play stores. If you have already downloaded the previous Iowa 511 app, it will update automatically.
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