Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

511 Case Studies
Utah CommuterLink

December 2001


On July 21, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission assigned the 511 abbreviated dialing code on a national basis for the provision of transportation information. Further, the FCC ruling has left it to state and local transportation agencies, telecommunications carriers and regulators to determine the appropriate courses of action to make these services available. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office is sponsoring an effort to document the progress of early implementers of 511 services for the benefit of the entire transportation community.

This case study focuses on the State of Utah and its implementation of statewide 511 services. Utah's 511 System became operational on December 18, 2001. However, as is evident in reading this document, the implementation is a work in progress. The intention is to concisely provide a current "snapshot" of the progress.

The principal point of contact for this case study is Bryan Chamberlain of the Utah Department of Transportation ( or 801/965-4222). The principal author of this case study is Rick Schuman of PBS&J ( or 407/647-7275).

Multiple documents and web sites have been referenced in this case study. To the extent possible, links are provided to these documents and sites. This and other 511 case studies are located at

This document contains five sections:

History/Perspective - Pre -511

Three items are of interest when examining the background leading to 511 services in Utah:

  • Utah Road Conditions Hotline - A minimum of twelve transportation-related phone information systems have been identified to be operating in the state of Utah. Currently, the most relevant in terms of 511 service is the Utah Department of Transportation's (UDOT's) 1-800-492-2400 Winter Road Conditions Hotline which is updated by the maintenance workers at a minimum daily, or as conditions change.
  • CommuterLink - CommuterLink is Utah DOTs transportation management program for the State of Utah. Opened in April 1999, CommuterLink includes over 300 miles of fiber-optic cables, 550 traffic signals, 200 CCTV cameras and 57 Variable message signs. The initial deployment was concentrated in the Salt Lake Valley area but the system is expanding to other areas across the state.

    This network of technology and people work together to detect and determine the source of problems on the roadways and provide the appropriate responses to reduce delays at accident scenes and restore traffic conditions to normal. Personnel in the UDOT Traffic Operations Center (TOC) control and monitor CommuterLink and can dispatch highway patrol, UDOT incident management and UDOT signal maintenance crews.

    Traveler information is an important element in CommuterLink, providing commuters with timely and accessible information at home, at work and on the road. As information is received at the UDOT TOC through cameras and traffic sensors, travelers will be informed of transportation problems via radio, television, the Internet ( and VMS signs along the roadways.

    Cooperation between seven public agencies has made construction and funding of CommuterLink possible. Partnering agencies include UDOT, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, the Federal Highway Administration, Utah Transit Authority, Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Utah Department of Public Safety. The total cost to implement the initial phase of CommuterLink was $70 million - $1 million in local funds, $52 million in state funds, and $17 million in federal funds.

  • 2002 Olympic Winter Games - In 1995, Salt Lake City was selected to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. From February 8 - 24, 2002, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area will host over 4100 athletes, 10,000 media and 1.6 million ticketed spectators. With competitions occurring at five indoor venues within Salt Lake City and five outdoor venues in mountain areas 10-60 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, the demand for traveler information during the Olympics will be intense.

Institutional Background

This section describes the transportation and telecommunications institutional structures in Utah.


As is typical of most states, there are many agencies involved in delivering transportation services in Utah, including:

  • The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT)
  • Transit agencies, the principal of which are:
    • The Utah Transit Authority (UTA)
    • Park City Transit
    • Logan Transit District
    • Dixie Area Rapid Transit (DARTS), St. George
  • Three Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)
    • Wasatch Front Regional Council
    • Mountainland Association of Governments
    • Cache Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)
  • Counties, including Salt Lake County, Utah's largest
  • Cities, including the major cities along the Wasatch Front
    • Salt Lake City
    • Ogden
    • Provo
    • Park City

In its 2001 General Session, the State Legislature amended the Utah Code to designate Utah DOT as:

"the state's lead agency for implementing 511 service and is the state's point of contact for coordinating 511 service with telecommunications service providers. The department shall:

  • implement and administer 511 service in the state;
  • coordinate with the highway authorities and public transit districts to provide advanced multimodal traveler information through 511 service and other means; and
  • in accordance with Title 63, Chapter 46a, Utah Administrative Rulemaking Act, make rules as necessary to implement this section.

In accordance with Title 11, Chapter 13, Interlocal Cooperation Act, the department shall enter into agreements or contracts with highway authorities and public transit districts to share the costs of implementing and administering 511 service in the state. The department shall enter into other agreements or contracts relating to the 511 service to offset the costs of implementing and administering 511 service in the state."


While Utah has a dozen incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), Qwest is by far the largest in terms of population served. Figure 1 illustrates the geographic coverage of the ILECs.

Map of Utah showing the geographic coverage areas for the 12 incumbent local exchange carriers
Figure 1

The Public Service Commission (PSC) of Utah regulates the ILECs. The PSC is an independent state agency comprised of three commissioners appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate that are aided by a small staff. The primary responsibility of the PSC is to ensure safe, reliable, adequate, and reasonably priced utility service.  It conducts hearings and investigations of utility company operations in order to determine just and reasonable rates for service. The Commission strives to protect efficient, reliable, reasonably priced utility service for customers, and to maintain financially healthy utility companies. These goals are attained through the regulatory decisions the Commission makes and through rules it adopts. It regulates most electrical, natural gas, telephone, and water utilities.

The Division of Public Utilities (DPU) of the Utah Department of Commerce involves itself in PSC deliberations, including appearing before the Commission as a party representing the broad public interest. The DPU is independent of the PSC.

Eleven wireless carriers are known to be operating in Utah, including five major national carriers (Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, Sprint, Nextel, Voicestream) and Qwest Wireless. Although wireless carriers generally do not provide coverage throughout all of Utah, the major population centers and highway network as usually well covered.

511 Plans / Vision

Utah intends to provide a single statewide service, available to callers for free. The service will provide integrated road weather conditions, crashes, congestion, and construction information on major state roads and principal arterials in the state. The service will also route calls to transit and other agencies, including the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, which will provide other types of traveler information and services during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Some of the Olympic information will include updates to the daily schedule and driving directions and public transit information on how to get to (or around) the Games.

To support the roadway-oriented information, provided by the service and the CommuterLink website, UDOT will implement an Event Tracking System to allow state and city construction, maintenance and permits workers to enter information about their projects and update the status and impacts of the projects from the field via keyed input from a telephone. This system will be used to provide information to our website and the Traveler Advisory Telephone system.

On December 18, 2001, Utah launched its 511 Traveler Advisory Telephone System. The system integrates the road weather conditions, crashes, congestion, and construction activities into this system. The initial system includes options for:

  • Traffic information: Incident-oriented and weather-related restriction information for principal state roads and primary arterials in the Salt Lake City area and throughout the State.
  • Transit information: UTA information on service disruptions, general messages, fares, etc; also the option to transfer to UTA's Customer Service Center to access a live operator
  • Road Conditions: Weather conditions on principal state roads throughout the State. (this is the same information that is currently provided via the current Utah Road Conditions Hotline)
  • Olympics information (through the Games): Information provided by the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee regarding events, transportation services and parking and also the option of transferring to a call center to make a reservation for bus transportation to the Mountain Venues.

Ongoing Activities

As stated previously, Utah's 511 service is operational. To preview the services, callers outside the state can call 866-511-UTAH. The section describes events of the recent past and near future to illustrate the steps necessary to initiate and expand a 511 service. The activities are categorized in the four following areas:

System Development and Implementation

With the need to have a system operational prior to the Olympic Winter Games in February 2002, UDOT and its partners needed to move quickly. Once UDOT was designated the lead agency for 511, the initial step was to establish a 511 Advisory Group. The Group consists of officials from UDOT (lead), UTA, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, the Utah Department of Public Safety/Highway Patrol, and the Utah Trucking Association. The Group has proven essential in shaping the vision and coordinating the partner's actions.

The summer of 2001 was active with many parallel activities. As a vision for the service emerged, UDOT tasked Georgia Tech Research Institute to research and develop a user interface specification for the service. UDOT also conducted a market research effort to determine what types of information callers were seeking and how they preferred to access information. Of note, these efforts reaffirmed the original leaning towards voice recognition as the primary user interface method.

Working through its system integrator, UDOT conducted an RFP process to select a developer and operator of the phone service. Tellme was selected for this role. Throughout the fall, finalizing contract terms and conditions and system development and testing occurred. The approach selected by UDOT is a fully outsourced 511 service. All calls are routed by carriers throughout the state to a single toll-free number. The toll-free number terminates at Tellme's California headquarters, where the telephony equipment resides. This 511 service will be the first to use Voice recognition and Voice extensible Mark-up Language (VoiceXML).

In addition to recouping its nonrecurring development costs for tailoring its systems to Utah's roadway and institutional environment, Tellme obtains its revenue on per-minute fees. UDOT has purchased 6 million minutes annually for the next three years, at the cost of roughly 8 cents/minute. UDOT estimated that average call times would be around 90 seconds and that roughly 4 million calls/year would occur. To address the Olympics, UDOT purchased an additional 1.5 million minutes in and around February 2002. If call volume or duration results in more than 6 million minutes being used (or 7.5 million in the first year), UDOT will pay for the overage at the same 8-cents/minute rate. Tellme manages all the telephony equipment and guarantees 96 phone lines will be available for the service, increasing to 360 during the Olympics. Rather than getting a busy signal, if all ports are in service, the system can "burst" to handle additional call volumes based on additional port availability within Tellme's network.

Carrier Negotiations

In parallel with system operations, UDOT has been conducting negotiations with landline and wireless carriers to route 511 to the Tellme service.

On the landline side, the most relevant - and complex - negotiations have occurred with Qwest. Recently UDOT and Qwest reached agreement on the cost of programming and operating switches to route 511 calls. The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed. However, The Division of Public Utilities indicated that it would challenge the terms with the PSC if any ongoing charges for call translation were included.

UDOT is working with the Utah Rural Telephone Association to coordinate with the rest of the landline carriers in the state. The Association has drafted boilerplate contract language for use by its members. Based on preliminary discussions, UDOT anticipates minimal conversion costs and no recurring charges.

UDOT is negotiating individually with each of the 11 wireless carriers. All have been cooperative and are routing 511 calls except for Verizon Wireless (it is anticipated that the issues will be resolved with Verizon Wireless soon). One carrier, AT&T Wireless, required UDOT to written terms and conditions prior to programming its switches.

Initial Operations

The Lieutenant Governor placed the first call to the 511 service on December 18, 2001. Over the next month, the service will be carefully monitored by UDOT and Tellme such that it is operating at peak performance in February 2002 and becomes an important part of Utah travelers' routines.

UDOT is still developing its long-term marketing plan. In the near-term, UDOT anticipates media coverage of the launch of the service, and promotion by the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee (511 is prominently displayed on the Organizing Committee's home page and is featured in Olympic television and radio ads and in the Olympic Transportation Guide). 511 will also be incorporated into an existing ad campaign promoting the services of CommuterLink. No plans have been developed yet for roadside or transit signage. It is highly unlikely that Changeable Message Signs will be used to "advertise" 511.

Enhancement Planning

While focus is clearly on perfecting system operation prior to the Olympics, UDOT is beginning to assess potential enhancements to the system, particularly in the area of additional content to be offered. Post-Olympics, UDOT plans to coordinate with a number of organizations including other transit agencies in the state, the Utah Travel Council, Airport Authorities, the National Parks, Greyhound and Amtrak to assess their interests - and the suitability of their information - to be part of the 511 service.

Lessons Learned

The following are some of the key "lessons learned" by the implementers of 511 in Utah. They are not intended to be exhaustive, but rather cover some key items they have learned through their process that might be helpful to others.

  • Benefits of participating in the 511 Deployment Coalition. With two members of UDOT's staff on the Coalition's Working Group that identified several key issues associated with 511 and also developed national implementation guidelines, Utah benefited by gaining instant access to information on developments and to the collective expertise of the Working Group.
  • Internet audio portal approach is ready for the market. Voice recognition, and heavy use of Internet standards and communications have enabled Utah to establish a superior product, very quickly, at costs competitive with more traditional on-premises telephony solutions.
  • Use of existing contract mechanisms to move quickly. By using its system integrator that was already on contract to select the 511 service operator, UDOT significantly reduced the time and effort to identify and select the service operator.
  • Implementers need a clear and complete understanding of estimated costs. UDOT did not anticipate the level of costs associated with transferring calls to UTA's customer service center. UDOT officials wish to point out that the better job implementers do in understanding and estimating all their costs upfront, the less of a chance of getting surprised by an unprojected cost.
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