A new smartphone app was developed by the Utah DOT (UDOT) to improve the accuracy and timeliness of road weather information collected and disseminated by a statewide traffic operations center (TOC). As an enhancement to a previously deployed traveler information system (UDOT traffic website and 511 phone system) the new app enabled travelers to submit road weather information directly to a Weather Responsive Traffic Management (WRTM) system and generate high frequency updates to forecast travel information (every 3 hours out 24 hours in the future) on 143 roadway links across the state.
The project initiated in September 2012 was operational by January 2013. Two additional staff (meteorologists) were required to handle the increased data management required at the operations center.
To evaluate the project, a pilot test was conducted to demonstrate operations from January through April 2013. Several storm events occurred during this period. Operational data were collected to evaluate performance and assess user satisfaction. Fifty-six (56) UDOT staff participated in the pilot. Acting as citizen reporters, 31 participants submitted 607 reports detailing conditions on 89 of the 143 roadway links in the network.
Interviews were conducted with participants to assess operational benefits and user satisfaction. Focus groups were conducted with 19 participants from the general public. To provide additional context to the evaluation, researchers examined results from a separate larger public survey conducted at the same time as the WRTM project to evaluate overall public satisfaction with forecast information services in Utah. The survey included two sample periods that took place immediately following two winter storms on January 10 and January 24, 2013 that affected travel in the Salt Lake City area. After each storm, 400 telephone surveys were conducted with citizens that regularly travel through the area.
The project demonstrated UDOT’s ability to add citizen reporters as a viable and useful source of road weather information to supplement primary sources. RWIS stations, cameras, and radar are regularly used by meteorologists to assess current conditions, however, Utah’s many rural and mountainous routes suffer from large gaps in observation. The addition of citizen reports through the traffic app introduced a unique, low-cost method for adding observation data and increasing situational awareness for TOC meteorologists and operators.
Response to the program was quite positive. During the two storm events 95 and 83 percent of respondents were satisfied with information received from the traffic app. When surveyed about using travel forecast information on the UDOT website, 81 and 76 percent were satisfied.
The following focus group comments were highlighted in the evaluation report.
- The traffic app is most often accessed during adverse weather.
- Drivers appreciate real-time, accurate weather information.
- Where available and when the image is clear, cameras are an effective tool to view travel conditions.
- The Citizen Assisted Reporter Program is seen as a good way to increase the availability and accuracy of weather and traffic information.