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Listed below are examples of success stories, best practices, and/or innovative tools/approaches. This section will grow as entries are submitted or links to other sites with useful examples are provided. If you believe your agency has utilized a best practice/approach that others could learn from, please submit a short description to AASHTO (including any pertinent links) on the Share Info with AASHTO form.  Please note that currently submissions are only being accepted from governmental entities. 

Massachusetts

Project Initiation with Mapping Tool Speeds MassDOT Project Delivery

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An online project planning application developed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to speed up project delivery while improving stakeholder engagement and environmental outcomes.

The MassDOT Project Intake Tool (MaPIT) streamlines project initiation and approval while also screening against multiple databases to flag any potential permitting logjams.

Image: MassDOT

MaPIT uses a map-based interface and accesses the agency’s various transportation asset, environmental, and safety datasets to make the path from project initiation to environmental permitting, project priority scoring, and project delivery more seamless and efficient.

The process of meeting with proponents, initiating the project, and having these projects approved “has absolutely been faster,” said Michael Bolduc, Transportation Planner and GIS Specialist at MassDOT. “We’ve had a lot of really positive feedback,” he said.

Screening Against Multiple Databases

MaPIT streamlines project delivery by integrating several processes. At MassDOT, a transportation project intended for the Transportation Improvement Plan begins with two forms. The Project Need Form describes existing conditions and why a project is needed, and the Project Initiation Form describes what is being proposed and the scope of the project. Projects can be initiated either internally by MassDOT or externally by a city, town, or other local authority, according to Bolduc.

The MaPIT tool merges these two separate processes into a single online application. At the same time, as the project need is being developed, the tool screens against multiple geographic information system (GIS) layers, including:

  • road inventory,
  • highway facility information,
  • roadway condition,
  • bridge database,
  • transit routes,
  • rail inventory,
  • crash data,
  • environmental concerns, and
  • social equity concerns.

Also, mapping is handled earlier in the project cycle, which creates a better workflow for the agency’s digital mapping staff, according to Kevin Lopes, Manager of GIS Services at MassDOT.

MassDOT District Project Development teams are notified by MaPIT when a project is ready to be reviewed for approval. Upon approval, the tool pushes all the information acquired during initiation process directly into MassDOT’s project management database and system of record—known as ProjectInfo—and the project is assigned a number. Efficiencies are realized because MaPIT populates the project database with relevant data “in one fell swoop,” Bolduc said.

MaPIT is part of MassDOT’s suite of tools called geoPASS—the Geospatial Planning, Analysis, and Screening Suite—that includes interactive descriptions of planned capital investments and maps of current approved MassDOT Projects.

Tool to Do More

The tool originally was conceived as an environmental screening tool but the development team soon recognized its potential to be much more. MassDOT applied for funding under Round 2 of the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program’s expediting project delivery focus area. SHRP2 funding was critical for getting the tool launched, said Tim Dexter, with MassDOT’s Environmental Services Section and a key member of the team developing the concept. “We had this grand idea with really no way to actually move it forward” if it weren’t for SHRP2, he said.

As the project scope expanded, the team looked at making the project initiation, mapping, and scoping process more efficient. Under the state’s system, the GIS staff would begin mapping only after projects were planned, approved, and entered into the ProjectInfo database. This required them to retrieve projects from the database and “individually draw each project, which is fairly labor intensive,” Dexter said. The MaPIT tool streamlines that process, automatically providing the project limits in a GIS format. It also can be used to create maps of project locations for public notice and engagement.

When initiating a project with MaPIT, the user draws the project boundaries on a map and then the tool automatically checks against all of MassDOT’s relevant GIS layers. “The hope is to not only help you through the application processes but also to screen against any potential problems” early in the process, Bolduc said. When considering land use, habitat, and wetland concerns, for instance, MaPIT will help planners identify any potential permitting issue and avoid problems later on, he said.

Improved Outcomes

The tool also is expected to improved environmental outcomes. For projects initiated before MaPIT was launched, the Environmental Services Section typically got involved after a project was about 25 percent designed, Dexter said. Staff would begin design reviews and the permitting process, but the scope of work would already have been set. If at that point MassDOT staff or one of the state or federal regulatory agencies had significant concerns about the design, then “we’re going backwards in the whole design process,” he said.

With MaPIT, staff are now able to ask informed questions when the project is planned, scoping the project accordingly to address those concerns. “The ultimate goal from the environmental perspective is to ask the right questions when you plan a project, before you scope it and design it,” Dexter said.

Version 1.0

MaPIT was introduced around the beginning of December 2017 to cities, towns, and other local authorities. According to Bolduc, there are many more pieces that MassDOT wants to add to MaPIT to make it even more useful. For instance, the tool currently identifies environmental justice and Title VI populations, but more could be done. According to Bolduc, there are plans to incorporate information from one of the interactive maps called the Engage Tool, which uses census data to help identify historically underserved populations.

Also, as MassDOT develops risk and vulnerability information for its transportation assets, all of the vulnerability data will be incorporated into MaPIT. Just as a project can be screened for critical habitat or crash clusters, “we’ll be able to screen for what assets may be vulnerable to severe storms, whether it’s a coastal storm or an inland storm,” Dexter said. “This is how we’re going to integrate climate change adaptation and planning into our project development process,” he said.

So far, MassDOT, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and several municipal proponents and design consultants have entered several batches of projects into MaPIT. MassDOT will have a better understanding of the benefits with regard to multi-year projects as more projects are initiated, said Bolduc.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The project was undertaken in partnership with ESRI, the GIS company. ESRI dedicated staff to the project, helping keep the project on schedule as the team worked through requirements changes and data mappings. However, ESR went through some staffing changes mid-way through, which required MassDOT to spend time getting the replacement up to speed on the project, Lopes said.

Also, the tool requires the use of the Massachusetts government’s XML Gateway, which is managed by the state’s IT office, according to Lopes. The IT office provided MassDOT with resources to develop the project, but the development environment was not very stable and it had negative impacts on tool testing and staff training, Lopes said. However, it was a good learning experience for MassDOT.

Transferability and Advice

MaPIT could be a model for other state DOTs without too much concern about their GIS platform, Lopes said. If another state “had minimal GIS licensing, they could still get the same functionality out of it,” Lopes said. “It’s all about the data.” According to Lopes, Rhode Island is looking into doing something similar.

Also, other states that consider developing a tool should make sure the project is fully scoped before budgeting. Changes in the scope of the MaPIT development project meant that MassDOT’s budget for the effort was insufficient.

More realistic budget estimates could be developed by spending more time upfront analyzing the effort and complexities involved with working with third parties, such as ESRI and the state’s IT office.

Additionally, MassDOT suggests working closely with partners to ensure the availability of needed resources.

A video about the tool may be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM1qDgt2GiI.

For more information contact Michael Bolduc, Transportation Planner and GIS Specialist at Michael.Bolduc@state.ma.us; Kevin Lopes, Manager of GIS Services at Kevin.Lopes@state.ma.us; or Tim Dexter, Environmental Services Section at Timothy.Dexter@state.ma.us.

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Virginia

Virginia DOT's Environmental Data and Reporting System Improves Communication, Accountability

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) evolution to an environmental data management system started with more than 73 decentralized spreadsheets and personal databases. In 2001, VDOT developed its GIS Integrator, an internal geographic information systems (GIS)-based tool to support the agency’s efforts to improve early project development and environmental review by capturing a spatial inventory of project shapes used to identify existing environmental resources with the potential for project impact through spatial analysis.

In 2003, VDOT expanded their data management solution by consolidating all non-spatial data sources into an environmental data repository called the Comprehensive Environmental Data and Reporting system (CEDAR). This internal web based application provides a single user interface for capturing all VDOT’s environmental business data, including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), permitting, and environmental contracts. The CEDAR application synchronizes nightly with the agency’s project pool and active directory databases for improved management of project data and user accounts. It also links to the agency’s GIS Integrator, which allows for streamlined project reviews.

“The CEDAR system provides VDOT staff with an invaluable comprehensive environmental data management tool that has successfully improved communication and accountability, said Geraldine Jones, VDOT CEDAR Administrator. “Since its deployment in 2003 CEDAR has been the backbone of VDOT’s environmental operations. CEDAR’s success, usability, and permanence can be attributed to its user championed platform and staff dedicated to maintain and enhance an application subject to dynamic regulations and processes,” she said.

The GIS Integrator allows users to buffer project shapes to determine potential resource issues. In this case, the project shape was buffered 2 miles for conservations lands. Source: VDOT

The integrated CEDAR system centralizes where staff enter and retrieve data for all VDOT’s environmental activities on a project-by-project basis, allowing for restricted viewing and editing based on roles and permissions. It captures project history, handles all project types – including construction and maintenance – tracks project status through the life of the project and generates system alerts.

The system also:

  • stores, manages and distributes documents;
  • contains a task assignment function;
  • tracks commitments;
  • documents project details such as meetings and phone calls using the journal feature;
  • contains links for environmental permit tracking and houses regulatory agency correspondence;
  • links to VDOT’s Integrated Project Manager (IPM) system, which contains project pool information;
  • links to the GIS Integrator, which allows for digitizing project shapes and spatial analysis functionality to identify environmental impacts in a project area;
  • includes both standard and ad-hoc project reporting such as new projects, tasks schedule, and advertisement schedule; and
  • provides access to project contract and other administrative information.

Benefits of the system include increased project accountability, satisfaction of mandates, and interagency coordination. It also provides documentation for decisions, and offers a tool for communication of commitments, project status, accuracy of project estimates, and efficiency of projects.

Current Efforts and Key Take-aways

Today, VDOT’s CEDAR and GIS Integrator applications are positioned for upgrades. A user advisory committee has been formed to identify functional requirements. The upgrade is expected to come with an updated user interface and be launched within the foreseeable future.

Key motivators for an integrated environmental data management system as exhibited by VDOT’s CEDAR and Integrator include the following:

  • Economic savings: Compared to “pre-CEDAR” 2003, VDOT environmental projects in 2011 experienced notable time savings. For example, the labor hours required to complete tasks associated with a project categorical exclusion (such as a biological assessment, state environmental review, or field survey for endangered species) decreased between 33 and 50 percent.
  • Process efficiencies: CEDAR consolidates applications (project management, GIS, data storage) and makes it easier to document environmental decisions and communicate environmental commitments and project status.
  • Quality control improvements: CEDAR provides standardized spatial data and pre-approved data schemes. It provides a basis for program management and trend analysis.
  • Interagency coordination and relationship building: CEDAR helps streamline interagency coordination by supporting compliance with mandates, reducing the time required for advancing projects through regulatory approvals, compiling all external agency communication, providing transparency of environmental data from all participating entities, and increasing the visibility of project.

Transferability

VDOT is not alone in its development of an environmental data management system. Though many state DOTs still use spreadsheets, databases, paper maps, and shapefiles as data management tools, many others have developed standalone systems or contemplated environmental data management systems of their own. In August 2015, numerous state DOTs gathered in Oregon and online to discuss data management approaches in their agencies in an effort to share information and experiences across agencies.

VDOT’s advice to other DOTs interested in their own data management systems includes supporting an IT staff dedicated to application maintenance, and involving users from the beginning to confirm requirements and increase staff adoption of the system.

For more information on VDOT’s CEDAR, please contact Geraldine Jones, CEDAR Administrator, VDOT Environmental Division, at Geraldine.Jones@VDOT.viriginia.gov.

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Compilations of Case Studies

FHWA

GIS in Transportation – This website is maintained by FHWA’s Office of Planning, Environment and Realty to highlight noteworthy practices and innovative uses of GIS applications in transportation planning by state and local transportation agencies. This site includes examples of GIS applications listed by State.

AASHTO

GIS for Transportation Symposium – This website includes proceedings for AASHTO’s GIS-T Symposium, including a variety of effective practices. Copies of the actual presentations made at each topic session are available on-line.

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    A project planning application developed by the Massachusetts DOT is expected to speed up project delivery while improving environmental outcomes.

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