Data Driven Transportation

By Scott E. Bennett, Director, Arkansas Department of Transportation

Scott E. Bennett, Director, Arkansas Department of Transportation

Geographically, Arkansas has it all. Across the state, you can experience the diversity of the Boston Mountains, Arkansas Blackland Prairies, Ouachita National Forests and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. Likewise, the road network around the state is just as vast and different as the land it covers. With more than 16,400 miles of state highways, Arkansas has the 12th largest system in the country. Truly, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has proven to be one of the most valuable tools in our toolbox to help expand, improve, and maintain that road network.

During my 30-year career at the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT), I have seen the use of location-based data analysis evolve from manual mapping to CADD to the robust servers, database platforms, and visualization tools we have today. Stacks of paper maps have been reduced to database queries, web applications, and quick searches on our mobile devices. I can sit at my desk and use our video log to drive down the highway and assess the pavement condition, traffic counts, bridge statistics, and road inventory simultaneously. For the public, through the benefit of GIS, we offer a more transparent view of where construction is happening, state highway system incidents and closures, winter weather road conditions, and live traffic on our traveler information site, a “know before you go” site for making informed decisions about navigating the state highway system.

"We are making efforts to educate ARDOT employees on using GIS technology so that this technology can be implemented into daily workflows across the agency"

Throughout ARDOT, GIS is one of our best tools for communication. Crash locations, proposed projects, job status, asset inventory, and much more can be broadcast visually through various platforms to keep employees informed for long-term planning and data driven decision making. Layering and relating data provides a more detailed analysis and allows us to focus on a broader scale as we look at transportation needs across the state. Being able to spatially see our data has made us realize that legacy datasets including a location (usually based on log mile) were not as accurate as they should be, and has inspired us to more accurately define those locations. GIS has also helped us realize some challenges around the Department such as reducing duplication of effort, increasing data standardization and documentation, as well as the need for a data warehouse for a single-source data repository and the need to move toward an enterprise data environment.

The Department regularly provides assistance and input to outside agencies concerning GIS related data. For instance, Arkansas needed updated orthoimagery coverage statewide since the last statewide acquired imagery was collected in 2006. Within our spatial platforms, orthoimagery is one of the most useful assets we have. We had resources to help contribute toward the effort to acquire statewide one-foot resolution orthoimagery for Arkansas in 2017 and partnered with the Arkansas GIS Office to do just that. Now everyone has access to this valuable resource. As another example, we have been working with Arkansas State Police to provide location points every 100 feet along Arkansas’ public road system through our GIS platform so that law enforcement across the state can use one standardized dataset to locate crashes. This has eliminated any confusion for the location process and allows for everyone to be on the same page when generating the crash locations. The downhill effect of this is that we have a reliable, standardized dataset to assist us in analyzing the safety of our roadway network.

While we live in this world of data at our fingertips and immediate answers, here at ARDOT we’re aware of the responsibility of being stewards of so much information. We are making efforts to educate ARDOT employees on using GIS technology so that this technology can be implemented into daily workflows across the agency. GIS doesn’t have to be concentrated and used only within designated offices. Through specific web applications and tutorials, everyone can benefit from using GIS in a variety of formats. We respect the steps that our fellow DOTs and state agencies have already taken toward these efforts and regularly participate in conferences and peer exchanges to learn new methodologies and review best practices to implement in our own systems and workflows. It’s critical to ARDOT’s strategic plan to ensure that we are providing needed data and visual tools to our employees and beyond.

Moving ahead, GIS will continue to play a major role in how we collect, maintain, and analyze data. We are all inundated with data, and it has been said in many arenas that we do not need to be data rich, but information poor. GIS helps to enable us to see outside the obvious and pushes us to the next level of performance management, preventative maintenance and predictive analysis. As we set our sights on a more dynamic, data driven work environment, I look forward to seeing where GIS technology will lead us next.



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