VTrans’ Irene Google Map Transitions to 511
NOVEMBER 18 - MONTPELIER – The day after Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont and severely damaged more than 500 miles of state road and some 200 bridges, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) quickly learned that its usual method of conveying information about road and bridge closures via the Internet was not going to be adequate. A new tool was needed, and it was needed fast.
Early the next day, the phone rang.
Former Vermont State Senator Matt Dunne, who heads up Community Affairs for Google, was on the line. A resident of Windsor County, which was hit particularly hard by the storm, Dunne was reaching out to all states that were impacted by Irene to offer Google’s services – free of charge.
VTrans quickly accepted.
Within hours of Dunne’s call, VTrans formed an in-house team of IT technicians and GIS mapping gurus to meet – virtually, of course – with Google staff in California. Working through the night, the joint high-tech team coordinated with VTrans’ scouts who were working in the field to identify the specific locations where highway damage had occurred.
In the wee hours of the morning, the team developed and then created a GIS database of Vermont bridge closures and roadway damage. By the end of the next day – just the third day following Irene’s devastating blow – Google published the first of what would be many easy-to-use maps depicting real-time road and bridge damage throughout the entire State of Vermont.
“Part of Google's mission is to help communities in crisis with information tools,” Dunne said. “We were happy to partner with the Vermont Agency of Transportation in the aftermath of the flooding. We hope this map was helpful to Vermonters in the months following Irene.”
Helpful is an understatement. The new map not only identified which roads – such as Route 9 or Route 100 – that were impacted, but the map was so detailed that it identified the specific locations along each road that were damaged. Each location was then color coded to help the traveling public understand whether that location was closed, or just limited in some capacity.
As road conditions changed and once impassible sections were repaired, VTrans staff continually worked with Google to update the map, a new version of which was published twice daily to ensure travelers had virtually up-to-the-minute information on how to navigate the state.
“The Vermont Google Map has been a tremendous help to Vermonters and visitors in the aftermath of Irene,” said Vermont Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Megan Smith. “Roads and bridges around the state were repaired in a remarkably short period of time, and the map’s seamless and real-time updates greatly supported our message that Vermont is open for business and that you can get here from there. The updated map was especially helpful to staff at Vermont’s information centers, as well as to our 1-800-Vermont call center in Newport, whose staff counseled hundreds of travelers.”
The tool was so powerful and easy to use that VTrans quickly reworked its Internet homepage to prominently display the color-coded, traveler information tool.
“The map was the tool we used to tell our story both to Vermonters and to those looking to visit Vermont,” said VTrans Secretary Brian Searles. “Thousands of people used the map to help plan their travels during a time when it was not intuitive on how to get around. Considering the economic constraints that face all state agencies, we are most grateful to Google for providing us such a valuable service.”
The need for such a service, however, has ended. With all but two bridges and nine miles of state roadway open to public travel, VTrans today will cease publishing its Irene-related Google map. The agency beginning Friday, November 18, 2011 also will return the look and feel of its website’s homepage to the way it functioned before the tropical storm struck on August 28, 2011.
Information regarding the remaining Irene-related road and bridge closures will be rolled into VTrans’ long-standing 511 travel information website, which also documents all other closures to the Vermont State Highway System.
VTrans will continue to publish information related to Irene, including its popular Facebook page that provides timely information regarding Irene-related events. But beginning November 18, the agency will house Irene information in a designated place within its overall website at www.aot.vt.us rather than presenting storm-related information as the centerpiece to the agency’s homepage.
Tropical Storm Irene severely damaged more than 500 miles of state highway, including some 200 state bridges. Today, only 2 bridge locations remains closed, and all but nine miles of state roadway are open to public travel. Road closures remain on Route 12A in Roxbury, Route 106 in Weathersfield and Route 107 between Bethel and Stockbridge.
Questions regarding storm-damaged roads and bridges related to Tropical Storm Irene can be answered by calling VTrans’ Irene Storm Center at 1-800-Vermont. People can also visit VTrans’ website at www.aot.state.vt.us where they can follow the agency’s progress on both Facebook and Twitter.