Weather, traffic online in Wash.

After six months of testing and tweaking, Washington state has launched a real-time weather and traffic site. The system, rWeather, replaces one that gave only basic information and regional reports on congestion and construction. State officials hope the new system will enable citizens to plan trips better, especially during the winter.

"They can know to bring chains with them, or if it is really bad, they may want to stay home," said Peter Briglia, program manager for the Transportation Department's Intelligence Transportation System. By better informing the public of road conditions, the roads will be much safer, Briglia said.

To access rWeather (www.wsdot.wa.gov/rweather), users must have Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator 4.09 or higher, or Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 4.01 or higher, with Service Pack 1.

Currently, road condition information, such as surface temperature, is available only for the state's major road, Interstate 90. In the next few months, a bird's-eye view of state roads will be created and color-coded to depict road conditions. In addition to a detailed profile and photographs of I-90, two more major roads will have detailed information.

All weather information is available now, however. Residents can click on regions of the state to get specific weather conditions. Information from more than 400 weather stations is available because Washington's DOT combined efforts with the University of Washington.

The federal government funded $1.5 million for the project, with the state providing $250,000, through June 2001. The department is seeking further federal and state funds as well as private sponsors.

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