WSDOT FAIL

The Washington Department of Transportation has developed a web site that is nothing short of spectacular, especially in a state that enjoys frequent unanticipated weather events that affect traffic. But it is only as good as the information provided to it and information regarding weather events outside of Snohomish, Pierce and King Counties and the mountain passes is sorely neglected. I can’t say whether the information is disregarded or if there is not collection mechanism to start with but the following screen caps are typical when there is a weather event outside the tax base of the Seattle-Tacoma population.

Screencap of WSDOT Bellingham Traffic page
This is the Bellingham-specific page on the WSDOT site. It is automatically updated with live cameras and road traffic measurement equipment embedded in the I-5 roadbed.
Note the slow and stopped traffic indicated by yellow, red and black on the flow map. Note the blizzard condition indicated by the live camera still. This weather event had been happening for about 5 hours at the time I made these screen caps.
Also note the lack of any timely advisories regarding the event that is slamming the area.
Screencap of WSDOT Travel Alerts and Incidents page
This is the NW Washington State page for locating travel alerts and slowdowns information. Notice the Whatcom County region? Nothing more than an obligatory construction advisory.
If I’m leaving SeaTac airport and driving home, I would expect that I can look at this page and see if there’s anything between me and home in Ferndale. But, as is apparent here, I would need to view the camera images all the way up my route.
I have taken this up with WSDOT and was told that 1) they can only do so much and 2) I should look on the Bellingham page for timely information.
UPDATE 2/26/09 – I received an email from WSDOT Communications. It reads as follows:
Hello Mr. Beaulaurier:
Thank you for sharing your blog entry with us. I know that the site appears biased toward the metropolitan Seattle area, but there is a reason behind what you see.
These “services” are not technically “services” for the general public – the cameras, road sensors, etc. They are functions that highway engineers use to monitor highways.
The traffic engineers have put them in place based on the needs of their jobs. The tools were already in use by the engineers for quite some time, when the Web Team decided to make the traffic engineers’ tools available to the general public – via the Web site. But the choice of technology and the locations covered are specific to the requirements of the highway engineers. We would like to cover the entire state with the kind of details provided by these tools. We also would like to develop a web-based application where you can enter your starting location, your ending location and get all of the travel details and issues on the route you have chosen. Some day, maybe. Meanwhile, we are attempting to provide you with whatever is available to assist in your travels. We simply do not have the collection mechanisms in place to provide more comprehensive data across the state. We may be able to upgrade some of our cameras or add new cameras with federal stimulus funds, but it is too early to tell for sure.
Our camera technology doesn’t function well in extreme weather. In this last big storm, we had many camera outages due to frozen fiber optic cables. Our road maintenance crews do their best to repair them. However, their first priority is to make the roads safe and passable for motorists. Especially when we have a lot of snow and ice, it takes
awhile for the cameras to rise to the top of the priority list.
We’ve tried to provide as much mountain pass information as we can. I’m not sure if you’ve visited the Statewide Mountain Pass page at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/ where we compiled the mountain pass information together. We also have mountain pass reports available via GovDelivery, an e-mail subscription service available on the site.
Go to http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/emailupdates/ and enter your e-mail address. Follow the instructions to establish your subscription and then check the boxes next to the alerts you want to receive. You can receives alerts about all of the passes, or just the one you travel most frequently. To unsubscribe, simply uncheck the boxes. Some of the alerts are available for wireless devices, too.
We hope you will continue to use the WSDOT site, despite its current
imperfections.
I entirely understand her point but seeing it makes me fear I didn’t communicate my position very well. The detection and communication of weather and accident-related incidents are outside of sensors and cameras. It involves State Patrol and WSDOT staff communications. At some point, these do find their way onto the regional map; very quickly it seems in the Seattle region but never or hours later in the outlying areas. That’s my complaint. My guess is it’s merely a matter of resources and priority.
Kudos to the WSDOT for replying so quickly. In her signature block she points to several social media resources which are handy to have.

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