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State's road conditions website goes down when drivers need it most

By: R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
December 20, 2010
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photo - A small snow blower machine and a snow shoveler work in the early morning to remove the snow from the sidewalk for pedestrians who will occupy the main street, Elk Avenue of Crested Butte, Colo. on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010. Photo by NATHAN BILOW, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A small snow blower machine and a snow shoveler work in the early morning to remove the snow from the sidewalk for pedestrians who will occupy the main street, Elk Avenue of Crested Butte, Colo. on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010. Photo by NATHAN BILOW, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 

The day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year, John Henry was less than thankful for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s road conditions website.

The popular site, cotrip.org, was down much of the day, as Henry tried to track how a storm could impact family members’ travel.

In fact, CDOT has a Thanksgiving record as woeful as the Detroit Lions. On the last day of the 2008 Thanksgiving weekend, with a storm raging, the site was down much of the day.

“To me it really makes no sense. The system, that’s the time when people need it,” said Henry, of Colorado Springs, who e-mailed The Gazette with his frustrations.

“That’s the time when those cameras become very, very important. And to have them down around the Thanksgiving holiday when there’s inclement weather, it does not do a service to the people of Colorado.”

CDOT officials acknowledge users’ frustration, but agency spokeswoman Stacey Stegman called the recent outage an isolated problem for a website that has tripled in traffic, from 500 million hits in 2008 to 1.4 billion last year.

The site includes first-hand reports, updated at least four times a day by plow drivers and state troopers around the state, and live web cams.

The pre-Thanksgiving outage occurred because a “cluster” of servers failed, Stegman said. The site was down for about four hours. The agency has added servers since.

Highway webcams, especially those on mountain passes, are known to show “image not available” during the heaviest snowstorms, which Stegman said can disrupt communications with the cameras.

Stegman said the agency does not keep track of outages, so she could not provide statistics.

“Yeah, it happens from time to time, for a number of reasons. We maintain one of the busiest websites in the state,” she said.  “That’s why we also have these other resources.”

The other resources include the 511 road conditions hotline, which got 3.1 million calls last year, and an automated text or e-mail update system, which sent out 195 million messages last year.

Plus, even when cotrip.org is down or moving at a snail’s pace, media outlets have access to the raw data, so they are able to convey conditions, she said.

The agency also added travel-time signs along Interstate 25 between Colorado Springs and Denver, which use automated radar machines and scans of vehicles equipped with toll passes to give drivers the estimated time it will take to drive, say, from Monument to the C-470 interchange.

Henry said the CDOT website is still a great resource.

“To CDOT’s credit, they’re up and active far more often than they’re down,” he said.

 

Get your show on the road

Live road and traffic conditions in Colorado:

• CDOT website, www.cotrip.org, or 511 phone hotline

• CDOT e-mail or text alerts; sign up at www.cotrip.org

• I-70 focus: goI70.com

• Local traffic cameras: springsgov.com/trafficeng

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