511 Information

Frequently asked questions

What is 511?

511 is an easy-to-remember traveler information telephone number. 511 will eventually replace and consolidate a proliferation of travel information telephone numbers around the country. 511 provides real-time updates about weather-related road conditions, road work, commercial vehicle restrictions, road closures and other events that impact traffic via the phone or Internet.

What is so important about 511?

511 is an easy-to-remember traveler information telephone number. 511 will eventually replace and consolidate a proliferation of travel information telephone numbers around the country. 511 provides real-time updates about weather-related road conditions, road work, commercial vehicle restrictions, road closures and other events that impact traffic via the phone or Internet.

How did 511 get started?

On March 8, 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to designate a nationwide three-digit telephone number for traveler information. This petition was formally supported by 17 state DOTs, 32 transit operators, and 23 metropolitan planning organizations and local agencies. On July 21, 2000, the FCC designated 511 as the single travel information telephone number to be made available to states and local jurisdictions across the country.

When did Iowa become involved?

Eight states, from Alaska to Maine, pooled resources and expertise to develop the 511 voice-activated phone service for travelers. Led by the Iowa DOT, the multistate consortium received $700,000 from the Federal Highway Administration to help pay for system design and software development. Each state also provided a 20 percent matching fund, boosting total funds to nearly $900,000. In addition to Iowa, the participating states in the consortium (as of 2011) are Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, and Vermont.

How soon will 511 be available nationwide?

The FCC ruling leaves nearly all implementation issues and schedules to state and local agencies and telecommunications carriers. There are no federal requirements; and there is no mandate for 511 implementation. While several states, highway corridors and cities already have 511 service, many states are still planning their 511 deployments. For more information on 511 deployments around the United States visit the 511 Deployment Coalition website http://www.deploy511.org.

What area does Iowa's 511 service cover?

511 is offered statewide in Iowa and covers interstates, U.S. routes and state highways. It does not include county roads or city streets. Eventually, this service may be expanded to other roadways.

How can I access Iowa's 511 information?

Information from Iowa's 511 system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via wireless, landline or pay phone by dialing 511 within Iowa, or any phone by dialing 800-288-1047 nationwide.

Drivers are encouraged to put safety first by asking a passenger to call 511, calling or logging onto 511ia.org prior to departure or placing the call at an appropriate stopping point along the way.

How does the phone system know the location from which I am calling?

The phone system identifies your telephone prefix when calling from a landline phone. It identifies the communications tower that your wireless phone is connected to at the time you place the call. In some cases, along state borders, Iowa's 511 may or may not work properly depending upon the cell tower location for that specific call. The 511 out-of-state phone number is 800-288-1047.

What type of information is available?

Weather-related road condition information is available from Oct. 15 through April 15. Road condition information is reported by the Iowa State Patrol and is updated at a minimum of every two hours.

For updates on statewide weather conditions, as collected from the Iowa DOT's road weather information system and aviation weather observations system sites, visit the Iowa DOT's website weatherview.iowadot.gov.

In addition to winter road conditions, information regarding state road construction projects, maintenance activities, crashes, truck restrictions and detours are posted. Information will be updated as new work is started or completed, or travel conditions change.

511, both in Iowa and nationally, is an evolving traveler information service. As additional resources become available, Iowa's system may be expanded to include information regarding transit routes, tourism and community events, emergency services, bridge embargos, etc.

How much does a call to 511 cost users?

511 is a public service of the telecommunications industry and State of Iowa. Calls to 511 are considered local when dialed from a landline phone. Wireless users will pay normal airtime and roaming charges, according to their wireless service contracts. Iowa DOT encourages motorists to pull off the road and park in a safe area before using wireless phones. Pay phone users are responsible for the local call fee.

What should I do if I have trouble using 511 from my landline or wireless phone?

Contact your phone carrier directly for assistance.

What if I have trouble dialing 511 from my work phone?

Many businesses have their own telephone systems. These systems switch calls between internal users and external telephone lines. These systems are called private branch exchanges (PBX).

Most PBX systems require the user to dial a single-digit access code (typically an "8" or "9") to reach an outside line. For callers to dial 511 directly, a switch must be made in the company's phone system.

Contact your supervisor or employer to find out if this switch has been made. Until the switch is made, you may call 511 after first dialing the required single digit access code.

How often is the information updated?

Updates are real-time (except winter road conditions, which are updated every two hours) and are updated as conditions change.

Where does the information originate?

A computer-based system known as CARS (Condition Acquisition and Reporting System) is working behind the scene processing the information that is entered by the Iowa State Patrol or Iowa DOT. After that information is entered, it is routed to the 511 website and phone system where it is automatically converted from text to audio messages.

Currently, winter road condition information is entered into CARS by the Iowa State Patrol, based on observations made by their officers as they travel throughout the state. Obviously, officers are not able to cover all designated routes at the same time. However, they continue to enter information as conditions change and they travel different roadways.

The Iowa DOT will enter data into CARS about statewide road construction projects, maintenance activities, crashes, truck restrictions and detours.

When should you use 511 versus 911?

911 is used to report emergencies, the need for police or medical attention. 511 is a traveler information number.

How is 511 different from radio and TV news?

511 is another information source for travelers that complements radio and television broadcasts. It is coded to the specific routes the caller is interested in; that kind of user-specific information is not given over broadcast media.

What is the role of the wireless phone in making calls to 511?

The Iowa DOT's and Iowa State Patrol's number one priority is safety. Our programs and efforts are directed toward improving safety and saving lives. The preference is that motorists call 511 from home, work or other point of origin prior to their departure. When used en route, motorists are urged to place their calls from a nearby rest area, fueling station or other appropriate stopping point along the way. It is illegal to park your vehicle on the shoulder of an interstate highway in a nonemergency situation.