Website of the Week: Caltrans Gives a View of the Highways

How a government agency is able to keep track of it all and keep California moving is one of the great accomplishments of modern organization and information management.
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The highway system in California is a wonder of engineering and organization, not to mention a source of fury when the roads aren't as clear and fast as we'd hope. How a government agency is able to keep track of it all and keep California moving is one of humanity's great (and greatly unrecognized) accomplishments.

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And, in California they manage the highways under increasingly difficult budget constraints.

Through it all, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) offers a bunch of services on its Web site. Specifically of use to most citizens are images from scores of cameras around the state, arranged by region.

There's also a comprehensive set of regional interactive maps describing real-time traffic conditions, plus links to numerous other resources such as incidents logged by the California Highway Patrol.

The site is still a work in progress. The Caltrans site says the department has more than 1,000 cameras that are "beamed" to regional headquarters to monitor conditions and dispatch help. But not all the cameras are online; Caltrans says it has bandwidth and equipment constraints, and is making available all it can now. Given that the state is furloughing employees, closing state offices periodically and undertaking other emergency economic measures, the slow growth seems fair enough.

In any case, it provides enough view of the state to give most travelers a decent preview of what they'll encounter.

One possible future improvement: The site now runs the videos on RealPlayer, which opens up a new window with each cameras viewed. That's not quite as convenient to see as the embedded players in sites like the excellent - which for some reason only includes a handful of California cities in its vast menu, leaving out the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.

Also, some of the links of the site show just some recent stills from the cams, not actual video.

But given the scope of the task before Caltrans, California drivers should be happy to get even this much information, laid out in such a straightforward way. So for its efforts, the video portion of the Caltrans site,, is the Government Video Website of the Week!

And, check out last week's Website of the Week, where NORAD tracks Santa's flight around the world.

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