BISMARCK – Along with the traditional ice scrapers, emergency kits and snow tires, North Dakotans are increasingly turning to another tool to meet the challenges of winter travel: their smartphones.
NDRoads, the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s mobile app offering road conditions and other travel information, has been downloaded about 14,000 times since it became available in late August, department officials said Monday.
Last winter, the department began a soft launch of its NDRoads Web application, a mobile version of its desktop Travel Information Map that provides color-coded information about road conditions, closures and work zones on state highways.
The department initially allowed people to access the app through its website, making it adaptable to smartphones and other mobile devices.
“We wanted to get it out first of all and see how people used it,” said Russ Buchholz, the department’s director of information technology.
They used it plenty. During a major snowstorm April 14-15 that shut down most of the state, NDRoads was accessed 49,000 times by mobile users, department spokeswoman Peggy Anderson said.
But the ultimate goal was to make NDRoads a faster, more user-friendly “native app” that users could download to their smartphones. The department teamed up with The Nerdery of Bloomington, Minn., and Houston Engineering of Bismarck to develop the free app for the Android and Apple iOS operating systems at a cost of $70,000, paid for with the department’s IT research and development funds.
The app became available through the Google Play store Aug. 28 and through Apple’s App Store a week later. As of Sunday, it had been downloaded about 4,200 times for Android devices and 9,800 times for Apple devices, Anderson said.
The department hopes to develop versions of the app for Windows and BlackBerry devices, but they probably won’t be ready for this winter season, Buchholz said.
Some copycats may use the DOT’s public road information to create similar apps, but Buchholz stressed that NDRoads is the state’s only official app.
“We don’t want any information being put out there about our roads that is not coming from the DOT,” he said, noting that the DOT is North Dakota’s first state agency to develop its own native app.
NDRoads tallied 24,000 visits by mobile device users during the week of Nov. 18-24, Anderson said.
In addition to the color-coded map, the app features a message center for DOT travel alerts and other notices; a list of common routes with detailed road conditions; and camera icons on the map that when opened will give users a view through one of the DOT’s 55 cameras positioned above major highways across the state, including five cameras added in the past month.