BAR HARBOR (AP) – The state’s new 511 system is designed to help commuters and travelers avoid traffic congestion and find alternative traffic routes.

But the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce is concerned that the system, which alerts drivers to full parking lots and traffic jams, will discourage tourists from visiting Acadia National Park and other busy tourist sites.

The state Department of Transportation officially launched the 511 system Thursday and placed signs on I-95 and the Maine Turnpike.

The service is free to the public and can be reached both through regular and cell phones. Cell phone users will pay for normal airtime and roaming charges. The system is also available on a Web site.

The state is still negotiating with Verizon, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless to place the 511 system on their phone lines. The system currently will not work with calling plans from those companies. Customers can call (866) 282-7578 to access the system from any phone.

The Federal Communications Commission designed 511 as the national traveler information phone number. Maine is one of eight states sharing the cost to design and develop the system.

Getting the system up and running in Maine is costing $125,000. The state is paying $25,000 and the rest of the money was transferred from federal highway funds to the state. Other participating states are Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Vermont.

Callers can access information about major delays including highway accidents, roadwork, road conditions and weather. The system is designed to be updated continually.

“The intent is to try to make the resources of the Acadia National Park available to everyone without them getting stuck in traffic or riding around trying to find a parking space,” said Russell Charette, DOT 511 project manager.

But Clare Bingham, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said she’s concerned the system was put into place with no input from area businesses.

“I think they’ll be a devastating affect on tourism economies from Bangor to Bar Harbor if the consequence of the system is to discourage Americans from visiting their national parks,” she said.

Charette said the system is designed to help people avoid congestion, not discourage tourism. The state is also using the service to promote the Island Explorer bus service, which ferries tourists from Bar Harbor to Arcadia.

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AP-ES-05-16-03 1424EDT

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