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New 511PAConnect System Could Help Stranded Motorists In Winter Storms

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It was an embarrassment.

People stranded for hours, even days, on the turnpike last January and then again in February.

"We've been stuck in the truck for thirteen and a half hours -- and still counting," one driver recalled.

"We haven't had any food since yesterday," added another.

"They're a lot of drivers out here that need their medication," said a third.

Back then, Gov. Tom Wolf called PennDOT, PEMA, the Turnpike Commission, and state police together and said use technology to fix this.

"One other key part of what the governor's instruction to us was timing. He said, I want this by winter 2016," recalled Mark Compton, executive director of the Turnpike Commission.

So just as this winter begins, Wolf has announced something called 511PAConnect.

"The idea is to keep people who are stuck on state roads, keep them informed as to what's going on and what's likely to happen," says Wolf.

When a road problem occurs, officials will identify the affected area and then alert drivers via cell phones.

Here's the way it's going to work.

If you're stuck in a traffic condition for two hours or more, your phone is going to ring just like an amber alert.

Then you're going to be asked to download, to register some information about your phone, the number of occupants in your car, the make of your car, information like that.

That will allow you to get information about the conditions every 15 minutes or so.

That can be critical, allowing officials to know who is stuck.

Bottom line. You're going to feel less isolated, more connected, particularly with medical emergency personnel.

Of course, transportation officials say stay off the roads in bad conditions.

But if you must drive, says PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards, "Pack food, water, and your medications, along with flashlights and a blanket in case your travel is impeded, and, of course, your charged up cell phones or mobile devices so you now can interact with the new 511PaConnect system."

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