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PennDOT to Privatize 511?

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) wants to hand over operation and management of the state’s 511 system to a private company.

Launched in 2009, 511 provides traffic-delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speeds on urban interstates, and access to more than 670 traffic cameras.

PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said they can’t make updates and changes as quickly as a for-profit could.

“If a new technology were to come on board, say next week, by the time we get that technology out to our customers you’re looking several months to a year later,” said Chizmar. “Whereas, if a company is essentially running this, what they can do is they can have that technology out there as quickly as possible.”

Chizmar said the system costs the state more than $2 million a year to operate.

He said they’re hoping a private company could make profits from selling sponsorships to the website.

Chizmar said 511 is a vital service for motorists.

“There’s an average of almost 2,000 visits a day to the website, over 1,200 callers a day. It’s a crucial travel information source.” said Chizmar. “If there’s a snowstorm, if there’s flooding or whatever we see calls go up on this dramatically.”

Chizmar said they received approval from the Pennsylvania Public Private Transportation Partnership (P3) Board, which also approved a project to manage the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s TRIP program, the Turnpike’s version of 511.

He said they will now put out requests for information and, once proposals are received, PennDOT will assign a team of employees to oversee the process.