UPDATE 1/18/12 @ 7:23 pm
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It was a long night for West Virginia Department of Transportation workers in the state's new 511 traffic alert system, as a snowstorm unfolded in southern West Virginia at the state line.
"This event came fast and furious," WVDOT spokesman Brent Walker said. "This part of I-77 was full of snow; you had the northbound side, which was actually closed for a period of time."
In the other direction, a jackknifed tractor-trailer and several accidents just inside the Virginia line had traffic backed up for miles.
WVDOT opened up access on I-77 between Princeton and the tunnel to get people turned around.
"There were several accidents and one major one that required both lanes to be shut down," Walker said. "The tunnel itself was not shut down, but the lanes were because they had to shut them down to get emergency equipment to the accident."
The state's new 511 traffic alert system uses phone apps, the Internet and social media to get the word out, so people "know before they go."
"It helped us communicate that message to the traveling public," Walker said. "It helped the traveling public get answers to what's going on. That's really going to be a challenge for us is to keep it fresh and keep our credibility so the traveling public will continue to rely on 511 for accurate and updated travel information."
So far, more than 9,900 people have downloaded the WV511 app on their smartphone to keep up to date with the latest traffic and weather conditions on West Virginia roads.
The majority of those accidents aren't on interstates but secondary roads.
The WVDOH is ready to start salting and plowing if, and when, necessary. The Huntington Office, which covers several southern counties, is working two 12-hour shifts starting at 7 p.m. Thursday.
"The rural secondary roads have their own safety issues," Steve Runyon, who's an assistant district engineer, said. "The canopy is tighter. That means the trees cover the roadways; that doesn't let the sun in as much to clear the roads with the salt. So we'll be taking extra precautions."
It's very simple to remember: it's 511.
"Our operators are here 24/7 to take calls and watch the video cameras from around the state," says Carrie Bly with the West Virginia Department of Transportation. "They're talking calls from 911 centers, the West Virginia State Police and Turnpike authorities. They'll digest that information and pass it along to people who are traveling."
West Virginia's 511 has a smart phone app available for download. It's WV511.
A quick search of the App Store and you'll find it listed for a free download.
It's also available online to access from your computer. You'll find a direct link to that site -- located in the Featured Links here at WSAZ.com.