CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- By the end of the year, drivers in West Virginia should be able to get information on traffic and transportation conditions throughout the state by dialing three numbers.The state Public Service Commission on Thursday agreed to the state Department of Transportation's request to create the 511 "abbreviated dialing code."The new 511 code is already used in many cities and states, including Maryland, Kentucky and Virginia. State transportation officials say it will give drivers quick access to information.DOT spokesman Brent Walker said the new system will have a "soft launch" by the end of November and will be fully functional by the end of the year."It will be a travel information system that will allow the traveling public to call -- either before they are planning to travel or during their travels -- to find out whether there are any accidents, work zones or other events that could cause any kind of a backup."It will allow them to make better decisions before they travel," Walker said."Most states around the country already have it," he said. "If you get stuck in traffic, you can call and find out what is going on.The travel information also will be available online, at www.wv511.org, Walker said. "Our tagline will be: 'Know Before You Go,'" he said.When it goes into operation, the website will provide access to information and photographs gathered by DOT cameras about road conditions, special events, work zones and or accidents."This will help you plan your travels. If you know ahead of time that there is an accident on the West Virginia Turnpike, you might postpone your travels," Walker said.PSC approval was the last major step DOT needed to launch the new 511 system.Walker said DOT is working "to get it operating by the end of the year, to market it in the right way and provide travelers with the right kinds of information."The new system will not impose any additional fees on travelers, telephone ratepayers or telephone companies. The state Division of Highways will pay all the new operational costs, according to the PSC order released on Thursday.No member of the public filed any objection to the new system, the order noted.
All West Virginia telecommunications carriers will be directed to adjust their facilities to accommodate the new dialing code, according to the PSC news release."This is a major milestone for the 511 system and the DOT's efforts to increase public safety," said DOT engineer Bruce Kenney. "We are very pleased with the PSC's decision and appreciate all the commission has done to move this process along quickly." Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.