CDOT program alerts drivers of traffic jams along I-70 mountain corridor

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DENVER -- The Colorado Department Of Transportation announced Monday it's launching a pilot program that will alert Interstate 70 mountain corridor drivers of crashes or backups.

It’s the first time the cellular network-based technology, developed by mapping company HERE, will be used in the U.S.

“You'll be driving along and all of a sudden there will be a backup and your phone is going to inform you that you need to stop in the next quarter mile, you need to exit this highway because there's this incident. You need to be aware of this pothole,” CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt said.

Bhatt said CDOT is still working out the details, and while the alert might come in the form of a text message, it's also looking at using voice commands so drivers aren’t distracted.

“That is part of the details that we need to work out,” Bhatt said. “It is likely that it would be by text or it's also a possibility that it would be a voice activation whereby your phone will actually talk to you similar to the way a GPS would.”

CDOT unveiled the pilot program in front of the Transportation Research Board in Washington on Monday afternoon, noting the I-70 mountain corridor is one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the country.

“A lot of crashes are caused by the end of a queue,” Bhatt said. “So there's a primary accident, the backup starts and people are flying along at 65 miles per hour not expecting there to be a line of traffic and then all of a sudden you get the secondary crashes -- people crashing into the backs of other cars.

"So if it's foggy, you can't even see ahead. So this is not just about providing alternatives but also providing real-time information.”

CDOT will begin the pilot program with 1,000 volunteer drivers to test it.

Bhatt said the initial cost of the pilot program is in the ballpark of $200,000. He said that would come out of CDOT’s "RoadX” fund, which was set up to test new technology like this.

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