WINTER MAINTENANCE: Minnesota wants to get public more involved in reporting road conditions

MnDOT testing crowd-sourcing application that will engage motorists and help with route performance

News March 10, 2015
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The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is testing a crowd-sourcing application that will allow motorists to update winter weather road conditions on the state’s 5-1-1 system.
The Regional Transportation Management Center is planning a soft launch of Citizen Reporting in April, initially inviting MnDOT employees to post their experiences on routes they travel. By next winter, the RTMC hopes to invite the public to do the same.
“We suspect that citizen reporters will be similar in ethic to the kinds of people who volunteer to be weather spotters,” said MnDOT Transportation Program Specialist Mary Meinert, who assists with day-to-day operations of 5-1-1.
Currently, MnDOT maintenance crews report road conditions, but Minnesota lacks 24/7 coverage and its reports can become quickly outdated, especially on highways that aren’t plowed as frequently or lack traffic cameras, said 5-1-1 System Coordinator Kelly Kennedy Braunig.
Citizen reporting, especially on weekends, will help keep that information fresh.
“We try to explain on the website that we only update from 3-6 a.m., 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and as road conditions change, but we still get many e-mails requesting more frequent road condition information,” Braunig said.
Other northern states face similar challenges as Minnesota, but have been able to improve the timeliness of road condition data with assistance from truckers and other motorists.
In Wyoming, more than 400 citizen reporters (primarily truckers) call in road conditions to the transportation management center. In Idaho, citizen reporters directly put the information into the 5-1-1 system. Minnesota will be the fifth state to adopt citizen reporting, following Iowa, which launched its service in November 2014.
Like Iowa, Minnesota’s citizen reporting will initially focus on winter roads.
To participate, people will need to take an online training module and then register their common routes, perhaps the highways they take to work or their way to the cabin on the weekends. These contributions will be marked as a citizen report on the website.
“Minnesota truck drivers are loyal users of the 5-1-1 system and we suspect they will also make some of our best reporters,” Meinert said.
Minnesota is part of a 13-state consortium that shares a 5-1-1 service technology provider. States with citizen reporting recently shared their experiences in a Peer Exchange sponsored by North/West Passage, a transportation pooled fund that is developing ways to share 5-1-1 data across state lines.
“With citizen reporting we hope to give people a voice and a chance to participate,” Braunig said.

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