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FHWA Recognizes Outstanding Traveler Information Websites

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced the first winners of its new national awards for traveler information websites. Recognized as the top traffic information sites in the United States are the Houston (TX) TranStar website; Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) website in Hanover, MD; and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) traffic information website.

FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters recognized the winners at the Dec. 2 board of directors meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Reliable, accessible traveler information saves travelers and shippers time, lives, and money by giving them choices of time, route, and even mode of transportation," Peters said. "These sites are all user friendly, give comprehensive information, and offer real-time reporting. With the Internet an important means of providing traveler information, all of them are highly useful to travelers and others seeking information."

The selections were made after a national review of 102 traveler information websites, covering both content and usability of the sites. The content was evaluated on whether sites presented information on current conditions, incidents, construction notices, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, tolls, and the extent to which other useful information and links were provided. Usability criteria addressed factors such as the organization of information on the site, navigation through the site, and the ways in which information is described to the users.

Houston TranStar (http://traffic.tamu.edu/) is a consortium of agencies in the greater Houston area. The Texas Department of Transportation, working with the Texas Transportation Institute, sponsors the website. It provides information and links related to most modes of transportation, emergency preparedness, and environmental issues. It incorporates a continuous improvement process into its website development, with changes or enhancements made every two to three months. It also adapts useful products from other websites. TranStar plans to look at the feasibility of making information from the site available on cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

CHART (http://www.chart.state.md.us/), developed by the Maryland State Highway Administration, presents comprehensive, real-time information for travelers in Maryland. The CHART website builds upon transportation projects in Maryland, which similarly consider how information may be presented on the website. For example, a dynamic message sign alert would be formatted simultaneously for the sign and for the website. Such up-front planning saves money in the long run by integrating and reducing the need for development and maintenance of parallel systems.

The VDOT traffic information website (http://www.vdot.state.va.us/traf/traf.html) uses a simple design that gives users easy access to current traffic conditions and alerts and other timely information. VDOT integrated information that was already being provided, made it look similar to the original product, and organized it to be easy for the user to access needed information quickly. At the beginning of the website development process, potential users were asked what they wanted. After the site debuted, VDOT did testing to find out if it worked well for commuters and if they got what they expected. VDOT is continuing its user-oriented approach with plans to enable personalization, such as choosing a regional home page or customized information.

The technologies of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) provide data to populate traveler information websites. For more information about ITS and the web awards, visit the FHWA Operations website at http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov.