Web site fosters happy driving in Alberta

If you have access to the Internet and live in Alberta, getting stuck in traffic may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new Web site.

The “Drive West” Web site was launched early December 2005, and provides travellers with real-time information on road conditions, highway closures, construction zones, delays and incidents.

The information currently covers Trans Canada Highway 1 and the Queen Elizabeth II Highway between Edmonton and Calgary.

Trent Bancarz, spokesperson for Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation with the Government of Alberta, said it’s something they’re test-driving.

“We’re seeing how the technology works and if it’s something that’s going to suit our needs, and of course the public needs as well,” said Bancarz.

Drive West is a pilot project that will run until March 31, 2006 with a total investment of $447,000 from each partner involved, including various cash and in-kind contributions.

The project is a partnership between the government of Canada, Alberta, British Columbia, the Alberta Motor Association (AMA), and IBI Group Inc.

Bruno Peters, associate director for the Edmonton branch of IBI Group, said they identified the opportunity and brought the partners together.

“We (IBI) are the project managers and also the developers and the application service providers. So we’re hosting, building, operating and maintaining the Web site,” said Peters.

Bancarz said they ran a similar test project last year, and are using a slightly different technology for the Drive West site. “We’re going to evaluate how the technology responds, how easy it is to update, technical things like does it crash all the time, and does it work well,” he said. “A big part of it too is going to be public reaction, because that’s who the Web site is for.”

Visitors to the site are able to provide feedback via an online survey, including the routes for which they’d most like to receive travel information.

Peters said the technology used for the site is an integration of multiple systems originally stemming from some of the original traffic management systems.

“These systems are used by major departments of transportation or cities to monitor conditions and events along the road network,” said Peters. “Whether that’s manually through human intervention using cameras, or using automated devices such as road censors for weather or traffic movement, you’re monitoring events happening on the roadways.”

He said there were several challenges to implementing Drive West.

“Technologically, some of the tricks are bringing in data sources from multiple agencies, which is one of the unique things about the Drive West site.”

Another technical challenge was receiving and obtaining consistent data on road networks for different agencies, as well as creating a user interface for the operators, said Peters.

Bancarz said it’s an improvement on information they previously had available, which was hours or more old. With the current system there is only about a 20 to 25 minute lag, he said.”These sites are going to be common in a very short time.”

He expressed the hope that other jurisdictions – not just Alberta – adopt the common technology. “We could link all our sites together, and travellers no matter where they were could access the information.”

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