By Jenny Neyman
Apologies to Steppenwolf, but rarely do prudent Alaskans get their motors runnin’ and head out on the highway in search of adventure to the point of not caring whatever comes their way.
They might be born and live in wild country, but that does not mean they’re wild about racing off into that country unaware and unprepared. Most would rather know what might be coming their way before they even pull out of their driveway.
These days that information is easier than ever to come by. Through advances in technology and participation in social media, those heading out on the state’s highways have a wealth of information available to them. Drivers in state need only dial 511 or visit the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ traveler information site, http://511.alaska.gov, to check driving conditions and weather watches, be forewarned of road closures, see areas of current and planned maintenance work, and other pertinent information.
And if navigating a browser to the 511 site is too cumbersome, ADOT uses social media to connect with subscribers even more directly, posting road condition, closure and maintenance information to its followers on Facebook and Twitter. It’s about at the point where it’s harder to not be informed before hitting the road than to have an idea of what’s in store for the drive.
And while that kind of access to information might seem second nature to travelers today, it’s still a relatively recent development, about 10 years for the website and since August 2011 for the social media presence. But it’s exploded since inception. The 511 page is the most-visited site of all of ADOT’s web presence, its Alaska 511 Traveler Information Facebook page has more than 1,870 followers, the general ADOT Facebook page has 3,115, and @Alaska511 has 862 followers on Twitter. It’s a bit of a shift in the way ADOT operates, to incorporate a habit of providing information through social media, but a trend set to continue.
“It’s a little bit of an extra workload. The department’s trying to embrace it as another tool in the toolbox. It’s not the only thing we’re doing to try to reach the public, but we know that there are a lot of people who prefer to get their news or engage with different government agencies through social media, so we understand that’s an important forum and we’ve embraced it,” said Jeremy Woodrow, ADOT spokesperson.
It’s not that an interest in informing travelers is new, he said, but as technology advances, so do the ways of communicating.
Today’s drivers might take it for granted that they can find out if there will be flaggers between points A and B, if there’s ice on the road in the mountain pass ahead or if high winds are expected to develop by the afternoon portion of their drive. But for those who traversed the state before these communications advances took hold, this standard continues to feel like a luxury.
“I still appreciate the fact that we can do these things. In fact, I’m almost in awe every day the things we can find on the Internet, the information available and the way we can get information. I don’t take it for granted because of having known the conditions in previous times, and knowing what things were like and what we had to go through to get information. The information that is so readily available now, I greatly appreciate it,” said Al Hershberger, of Soldotna.
With his Kenai Peninsula experience dating back to the late 1940s, Hershberger remembers when just having a road connection to Anchorage was the big new thing, long before people were excited about having new ways to find out driving conditions along that road.
“Originally, I’m not aware of any way to find that out, way back when the highway to Anchorage first opened in ’51. You would know who the last person was who went up the road and you’d go ask him,” said Hershberger, who in those days worked for the Alaska Road Commission, which built the peninsula’s highways.