Still buzzing from the success of its RU Buzzed smartphone app, which helps people figure out if they are too drunk to drive, the Colorado Department of Transportation wants to use technology to tackle another tricky problem: I-70 gridlock. CDOT is currently looking for help from the private sector to develop an app that would allow motorists to check in on I-70 traffic and road conditions, find alternate routes, restaurants or activities along the way, and even use historic travel data to pick the best times to the hit the road. Depending on what weekend they plan to travel, for example, skiers could use this hypothetical app to find out whether they'd have better luck leaving at 6 a.m., 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. — or just rolling over and going back to sleep.
"Technology in the private sector is moving faster than it is in government," says CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. "We know there are talented, innovative people who could build this...so we don't have to maintain it in-house." Not that Stegman has any fear of using new technology herself; she and colleague Mindy Crane just won the Westword Web Award for Denver's Best PR flacks on Twitter for their work with ColoradoDOT.
But it's the apps that have gotten CDOT the most attention. In December 2009, the department released R U Buzzed?, a cheekily named iPhone app designed to push the department's ongoing effort to remind people not to drink and drive. Created by local firm ID345, the free app allows imbibers to enter their weight, sex, the hours they've been drinking, and the number and kind of drinks they've slammed (if they can remember) in order to calculate an estimate of their blood-alcohol level. It has since been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, and this past August, CDOT released "Estás Tomado?," a Spanish-language version of the app, this one for the android market.
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The department is hoping that an I-70 app would be just as successful. In return for providing CDOT with the app, the winning company would be allowed to sell advertising on it, as well as on the department's busy website, www.CoTrip.org (which currently doesn't allow any advertising), and on the 511 phone information line. The app developer could even work out deals with potential advertisers, since businesses might want to offer discounts to travelers who're encouraged to get off the road for a few hours.
CDOT is collecting proposals this month and wants to make a decision in January, so that the app can be up and running by Memorial Day and the busy summer season. Eventually, Stegman says, the department would like the app to include all major thoroughfares in the state.
Also read: "I-25 drivers get worked up over this sign"