Tag Archives: GIS

UDOT leader named top young transportation innovator

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Utah Department of Transportation is known for exciting innovations such as accelerated bridge construction and advanced intersection designs. But innovation doesn’t have to be flashy to be valuable.

GIS Manager Becky Hjelm speaks after winning the 2014 Vanguard Award at the AASHTO Annual Conference in Charlotte.

GIS Manager Becky Hjelm speaks after winning the 2014 Vanguard Award at the AASHTO Annual Conference in Charlotte.

Becky Hjelm, GIS Manager at the Utah Department of Transportation, has been integral to some of UDOT’s recent innovations through data-driven projects aimed to Keep Utah Moving.

For her efforts, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is honoring Hjelm as its 2014 Transportation Vanguard Award winner.

The national award is given by AASHTO to recognize an individual aged 40 or younger who is leading the way in doing extraordinary things in the field of transportation by “exemplifying a commitment to excellence and implementation of innovative technologies and processes.” It was created in honor of Jim McMinimee, a UDOT leader who passed away in 2012.

Hjelm, who has been at UDOT for just under three years, has proven herself to be a visionary, with the ability to build effective teams and work strategically to accomplish more than thought possible. She does it by using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) along with her attention to detail, outreach and collaboration talents.

“Through her leadership, UDOT has embraced GIS,” said Randy Park, UDOT’s Director of Development. “The way we do business is changing rapidly, and the increased reliance on data is making us more efficient.”

Hjelm has been part of a big culture change at UDOT, through her contagious excitement about the technology. During her short time at the department, she’s identified and implemented many projects and opportunities, including geo-referencing CAD files, creating an Outdoor Advertising Control Map, implementing ProjectWise layers statewide, and establishing a new Emergency Management Tool.

Becky Hjelm (center) poses with her UDOT GIS team.

Becky Hjelm (center, in vest) poses with her UDOT GIS team.

Some of her most valuable work has been her work on an asset management data project. UDOT had already asked Mandli Communications to perform LIDAR scanning, which allows engineers and scientists to examine natural and built environments across a wide range of scales with greater accuracy, precision and flexibility. The state has scans of every state route, which includes pavement and other asset data.  Using that large amount of data would prove to be difficult without using GIS. So Hjelm organized a cross-departmental team to accomplish the task of building the tool in a timely manner, saving countless hours and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Park said UDOT expects the culture change and innovation to continue to benefit the State of Utah for years to come.

“There isn’t just one innovative idea that Becky has implemented. She’s put in place an entire program that continues to grow,” he said.

 

GIS at work: GETTING IT RIGHT

A new GIS tool for retrieving right-of-way information is saving time and funding for UDOT.

Photo of GIS street view with colored line showing right of way data.Some of the UDOT Right of Way Division’s responsibilities include acquiring property for the expansion of the transportation system and regulating access to roadways by issuing permits. These important functions involve interaction with property owners and developers who need to know the location of a property line or the type of access granted on a roadway. Sometimes UDOT employees need answers about UDOT-owned property as well.

UDOT ROW employees respond to hundreds of complex inquiries each year. Getting answers used to be very time consuming, according to Randy Smith, UDOT Region Two Right of Way Manager. “It took about twelve hours per each request and up to 3 days to answer each question,” says Smith, because several data bases needed to be thoroughly searched.

Smith worked with UDOT Central Right of Way, UDOT Central GIS, and a team to develop a GIS tool as part of his course work for the Utah Certified Public Manager program offered to state employees.

Searching more easily

Much of the ROW data UDOT maintains is in ProjectWise, an online document storage system. Smith’s team built links that connects the map to ProjectWise documents. “The Arc Map has hyperlinks to ProjectWise and the original source data,” says Smith. Now finding answers takes minutes as opposed to hours or even days.

Called the Right of Way GIS Tool, the new process offers many advantages. It’s a “once-and-done” solution explains Smith, since inquiries are kept in the system to eliminate duplication of effort.

Smith’s team performed a cost-benefit on the system that’s quite impressive. Paying an employee to respond to an inquiry was determined to be $550 per request. UDOT Region Right of Way Two alone gets an average of 350 requests a year. The savings offered by the tool is a whopping $160,000 each year. “It’s an opportunity cost savings,” explains Smith, since employees are now freed up to work, to problem solve or improve processes.

Table showing annual savings of $161,358.75

Future benefits

The tool is only available to UDOT right now, but a tool for the public will be released in the near future. Smith suspects that the volume of questions may go down once people can find information on their own.

Other groups with information stored in ProjectWise may benefit as well. “While we developed this tool specific to right-of-way, we found that the environment is applicable to other disciplines,” Smith says.

For more stories about GIS Tools, see:

UDOT Receives National Award

Consider a Map

Pavement Marking Check-Up

Visit the UDOT Data Portal, a one stop shop for maps, apps and data.

Under construction: GIS apps to improve safety

The following post is the second of a two-part series about how GIS tools help employees expedite work and refine the quality of information needed to improve the transportation system. Please also see GIS tools at work in UDOT Region Four.

Widespread, enthusiastic uses of spatial data have not always been embraced – mostly because employees didn’t have experience using the data and tools. One of UDOT’s most enthusiastic GIS tool proponents, Pre-Construction Engineer Monte Aldridge, took a pro-active approach and changed the work culture in region four.

Aldridge required his pre-construction team to use the tools and then report back at a monthly team meeting. Pre-construction teams are made up of members with a variety of engineering specialties, including design, environmental, and hydrology. Teams plan and design small and large roadway projects.

The experience was “very beneficial,” says Aldridge. Once the team members investigated the tools then shared their use experience, they were hooked.  “Now it’s something that’s used every day.”

Wildlife Corssing Images

Wildlife fencing works to direct animals safely across roadways. In the top photo, a mule deer buck has just crossed an overpass. In the bottom photo, fencing directs a mule deer herd to a crossing under the roadway.

For example, roadway designers found out right away that using the Linear Bench, a straight line diagram tool, is useful to catalog relevant roadway assets before designing a project. Region Four designers also use smartphones as on-site data-collectors to geo-reference roadway features when visiting a future construction site. Using the tools has prompted ideas for other uses.

Oh deer!

A large animal that gets around wildlife fencing “is an almost guaranteed accident,” says Aldridge. When a wildlife carcass is picked up on a UDOT route, the location, animal type, along with other information is currently geo-referenced with a smart phone app.  A modification to this app will send an email when a carcass is picked up along a road section where wildlife fencing has been installed. The email will alert transportation technicians that a fence may have been breached.

Another app is being developed to accumulate crash hot-spot data. The Utah Highway Patrol investigates highway crashes and turns over information over to UDOT. Information on the location and cause of a crash is not immediate, however. Overcoming that time lag in getting that information can speed up the time it takes to improve safety.

Staff in Region Four is working to identify how to log crash data to exclude private and sensitive information that’s collected as part of UHP’s investigation. Then, the non-sensitive information can help UDOT employees make safety improvements, if needed, more quickly.

GIS tools at work in UDOT Region Four

UDOT Region Four takes in half of the state. While other regions face heavy snow or urban traffic, Region Four’s challenge is to coordinate work over a large area. Geographic Information System (GIS) tools have helped that coordination process.

The following post is the first of a two-part series about how GIS tools help employees expedite work and refine the quality of information needed to improve the transportation system.

Data Portal screenshotGIS data can be accessed at the UDOT Data Portal.  Much of the information on the site is geo-referenced – that is, given an exact spatial location. The UDOT Data Portal also has tools to view and analyze the data sets. Tools include maps and the Linear Bench, a straight line diagram generator. Both tools can be populated with multiple data sets, like the location of culverts or bridges. Data sets can also be downloaded.

Maps and apps improve work coordination

The Utah Prairie Dog, which occupies habitat within the right-of-way of many highways in Region Four, is afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act. UDOT recently completed a formal consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service that defined measures to minimize impacts to this species.

As part of implementing these measures, UDOT uses GIS and GPS tools to identify and quantify the acreage of habitat of temporary and permanent impacts. The tools expedite surveying and monitoring efforts so UDOT can quickly complete necessary road work.

Material pits are the sources of rock, sand and gravel used on construction and maintenance projects. Pits located on BLM or US Forrest Service land require permits.

An app that geographically displays the pits along with their permitting information is helping UDOT employees stay on top of the permitting process. The app generates an automatic email six months before expiration of the permit so UDOT won’t risk losing access to pits.  

UDOT Leads at GIS Conference for Innovation and Progress

UPLANThe Utah Department of Transportation was recently recognized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation (AASHTO) at a national conference held in Boise, Idaho May 6-8. UDOT has been acknowledged for the way we utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in transportation.

UDOT stands out as a leader among the nation’s DOTs for our advancements with the highway mapping system known as UPlan. UDOT also received an honorable mention in the Transportation Publication division map competition for the Utah State Highway Map.

UDOT GIS Manager Frank Pisani attended the conference and said he was approached by nearly a dozen states who expressed interest in emulating UDOT’s implementation of UPlan.

So what exactly is UPlan and UGate?  “UPlan is an interactive mapping platform that supports UDOT by helping visualize our data, track our assets and strengthen our transportation planning with better analysis and collaborative information,” Pisani explained.

“UGate is the database and UPlan is the front end,” Pisani said. “UGate is behind the scenes as the engine that powers UPlan.”

The UPlan website is used as an information system where data can be tracked and recorded for both internal and public audiences. Due to it success, the federal government is also encouraging state to implement a similar system..

The Federal Highway Administration also highlighted UDOT as a model for other states for our Highway Performance Monitoring Systems and the approach we use with Linear Reference Systems.

Frank Pisani explains Linear Reference Systems:  “This is how UDOT coordinates with other state organizations like 911, highway patrols and local governments to collectively maintain 1 road network.”

Pisani said he was approached by a fellow conference attendee who claimed he had been coming to the conference for more than 20 years., “Three years ago UDOT wasn’t even here,” the man said. “And now you guys have taken over.”

UDOT has surpassed other state DOTs in the way we have been able to accomplish more with limited resources.

“UDOT has direction, support and good technology that is helping us capstone a lot of our efforts,” Pisani said. “We are trying to use technology to the best of our ability to inform the department and also the public that we are using this as an information tool and we are making the best out of the technology and data that is out there. UDOT is innovative in all aspects of the department and our technology focus is just one of them.”

Telling a Story

UDOT is using state-of-the-art mapping tools help communicate important information to road users.

Amanda Holm views the Top Ten Story Map.

Amanda Holm views the Top Ten Story Map.

Every spring, UDOT gives road users heads-up on road work by announcing the top road construction projects that may cause travel delay throughout the summer. Communicating the location and duration of those projects was made easier this year because of Geographic Information Tool that uses maps to communicate project details.

UDOT’s Geographic Information System team used the UPlan Map Center  to build a road construction story map that integrates several maps on an interactive web page. The result is a one-stop information site for ten of UDOT’s most high-impact road construction projects.

New GIS technology lets UDOT put map creation tools in the hands of many users where only analysts had access previously.  The UPlan Map Center site allows users to build a custom map, or several maps, quickly and easily. Those maps can then be combined to create a story map that can be viewed in a browser, shared on a blog or embedded in a website.

Better partnering

Maps are a good way to visually define project scope, see trends in space and time, and communicate with work groups or stakeholders. Grouping several maps together can help communicate a more complete story – such as where and when to anticipate road construction.

But road construction project details are not the only information that can be represented on maps. Basically, any feature that can be seen through a windshield while driving on a state route can be represented on a map. Signs, pavement, signals, culverts, all components of the state transportation system, can be mapped.

Other spatial data sets available on the UPlan site include crash data, which lists the number of crashes for each road segment, and crash severity and type, and Average Annual Daily Traffic, which lists level of traffic on state routes.

Cycling MapUDOT’s website currently features a Road Respect Story Map that shows a cycling map series. Together, the maps provide a great resource for cyclist to find popular cycling routes, information on cycling infrastructure, and even rules cyclists and motorists need to know to safely share the road.

GIS team members hope that the use of custom-built maps and Story Maps becomes wide spread at UDOT. GIS Manager Frank Pisani believes that using customized maps can lead to better partnering since maps allow people from different disciplines to reference information for a common interest, “GIS is the science of putting features on a map and solving problems,” says Pisani.

For more information about using customized maps and Story Maps, contact UDOT’s GIS team:

Frank Pisani, GIS Manager
Engineering Technology Services
Cell: (801) 633-6258
E-mail: fpisani@utah.gov

Becky Hjelm, GIS Specialist
Cell: (801) 386-4162
Office: (801) 965-4074
E-mail: bhjelm@utah.gov

This post was written by Catherine Higgins of the Project Development division.