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WYDOT partners with Google to widen access to road closure data

Agreement aims to save lives in severe weather, prevent stranded motorists led astray by GPS

A truck crash on U.S. Highway 14 in Wyoming. (Wyoming Department of Transportation)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When snow, high winds and other severe weather conditions require the Wyoming Department of Transportation to close Interstate 80, one of the nation’s primary east–west highways, conditions on secondary roads are often even more dangerous. Yet without sufficient data, some navigational apps may reroute I-80 motorists and commercial vehicle operators onto those very roads.

WYDOT is now working to improve safety and facilitate the efficient movement of freight by sharing road closure data directly with Google and other navigation companies, the department announced Thursday. Expanding access to road closure data is especially critical in March and April, which are historically the state’s snowiest months.

“WYDOT is constantly innovating and adapting to the challenges of Wyoming’s harsh winters and meeting our mission to keep people and commerce moving,” WYDOT Director Darin Westby said. “Last winter saw too many close calls, and we are excited to arrive at a practical solution that will keep both travelers and search-and-rescue responders safer.”

A white ford SUV is stuck in a snowdrift as tall as the grill. Surrounding the vehicle is more snow, including tall drifts on the side of the vehicle. No road is in sight. (Wyoming Department of Transportation)

Navigational apps generally report road closures and recommend alternate routes based on data collected from other drivers who are using the app. As a result, information about infrequently traveled, local roads may not be updated often enough to reflect fast-changing conditions. In Wyoming, some I-80 motorists following suggested detours have ended up stranded on inaccessible roads without fuel, food or water.

This also creates hazards for the Wyoming Highway Patrol and other emergency responders tasked with finding and rescuing these motorists. Road closures and ill-advised detours during just one storm in 2023 resulted in 28 search-and-rescue missions in Sweetwater County alone.

To help prevent such emergencies, WYDOT has expanded third-party access to a powerful tool known as the Situation Data Exchange, or SDX. WYDOT partner Trihydro, an engineering and environmental consulting firm based in Laramie, developed the SDX in support of the Wyoming Connected Vehicle Pilot, a WYDOT project funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The SDX stores and distributes data collected from wirelessly connected vehicles, including WYDOT fleet vehicles and snowplows. WYDOT also consults with individual counties to include information on local and conditional closures. Navigation companies with access to the SDX will have a new, reliable source of real-time travel information including weather advisories, variable speed limits, road closure notifications and vehicle weight restrictions.

“Wyoming is leading the way in improving highway safety by making vital traveler information available to all road users, from residents and visitors to commercial truckers,” said WYDOT GIS/ITS Manager Vince Garcia.

A snowplow is stuck on Highway 789 near Baggs. (Wyoming Department of Transportation)

WYDOT began by reaching out to Google, which has entered into an agreement with Trihydro to be a third-party distributor of SDX data through Google Maps. WYDOT hopes to finalize agreements with Apple and other navigation system providers in the near future to ensure that accurate, up-to-date travel information is available to as many motorists as possible.

Meanwhile, WYDOT officials continue to coordinate with USDOT to expand access to the SDX.

“WYDOT has collaborated with Trihydro’s SDX team to design and implement an exemplary messaging system that maximizes coordination between Wyoming’s jurisdictional levels and navigation companies to create and relay road incident updates and closures,” said Eric Kolb, GIS senior staff data engineer for Google Maps. “The SDX provides Wyoming’s high-quality data in the desired format through a convenient interface, all of which reduces Google Maps’ effort to acquire and translate Wyoming’s road incident updates into its navigation database. It’s been a pleasure working with the WYDOT and Trihydro teams to both understand and encourage their motivations and capabilities.”

Wyoming residents and visitors can visit WYDOT’s Travel Information Service website at www.wyoroad.info for the latest information on road conditions and closures, including an interactive travel information map. Commercial vehicle operators can visit https://cvop.wyoroad.info/cvop for road and travel information tailored to their needs.