Dial up for road conditions

Just as 911 is recognized across the country as the number to call in an emergency, 511 someday could be the call drivers place to check on the conditions of the road ahead. Many regions already offer similar services using traditional seven- or 10-digit numbers, but a nationally recognized three-digit code could give such services a boost in profile.

Several other regions around the country offer or plan to offer 511 services, including Arizona, Minnesota, Utah and San Francisco.

In northern Kentucky, dialing 511 directs callers to an automated service center where information on the region's roads are collected and put into a central system. Like many telephone directory services, callers use an automated menu system to request information, by either selecting menu items using their phone keypad or by speaking a number.

One option Kentucky callers do not have is recommended travel plans. Callers who learn about problems on their planned route must use the menu to check for themselves on the situation elsewhere.

There's a lot of pressure to suggest alternate routes, said Leon Walden, a transportation engineer specialist in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. But officials are concerned about possible damage to the credibility of the service if they do make recommendations and some drivers end up feeling they were steered wrong.

"We try to give them information on the routes as best we can, and they make the decision," Walden said.

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