News / Calgary

Alberta's 511 roads 'lifeline' aids 1.2 million travellers in first year

More than a million travellers in a hurry to get going — even when it's snowing — have made use of Alberta's 511 road-conditions service in its first year of operations.

Figures provided to Metro on Monday indicate 1.2 million unique visitors have ventured to, which features real-time road conditions, travel and construction advisories as well the latest highway camera images.

The 511 phone hotline has also proved popular on days when navigating Alberta roads has proven particularly challenging. For example, on June 19 the service received just 192 calls; however, the very next day, more than 5,600 inquiries flooded the system as historic flood waters roared into the southern communities and left many major routes impassable.

Alberta Transportation spokesperson Karen Sigurdson said the service also proved valuable as record snowfalls blanketed Calgary in December and Edmonton was also hit with repeated winter blasts.

"I've had people tell me it's become their lifeline . . . what we really want to do is give people the tools so they can make their own decisions about driving safety," Sigurdson said.

Edmonton resident Susan Funke touted the benefits of 511 after tweeting an inquiry about Highway 2 conditions at the service's operators Monday morning after a light dusting of snow hit the Calgary area.

"All morning I stewed about — 'Should I go? Should I not go?' " said Funke, who planned to visit some friends for the day. "Then they (511 operators) got back to me and said things were clear . . . it took 5-10 minutes."

Sigurdson said the Twitter account her group keeps populated with real-time road reports has already garnered more than 30,000 followers and also allows travellers on the roadway to get in touch with operators and report developments at a rapid pace.

Overall, she said the service still has some kinks to work out — a top priority will be making 511's highway cameras accessible via smartphone.

Calgary EMS spokesperson Stuart Brideaux said he hopes the service leads more residents to think twice before venturing out on days when non-essential travel is discouraged.

"Winter roads in Alberta are something everyone should always be prepared for," he said. "But if it (511) influences when you may leave or whether you delay your plans to have as safe of a trip as you can on the highways that's going to be a benefit to everybody."

The 511 system was set up for $314,000, half of which was covered by the federal government, and replaced a road-report system that had been run by the Alberta Motor Association since 1927. Sigurdson said an additional $410,000 will be required annually to keep the system running.

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