Feb 16, 2006

Updating History

or the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) District 7 Drainage Group, designing the roads of the future demands an in-depth understanding of roads of the past. Unfortunately, the historical information necessary to make better decisions, deliver quality service, manage safer roads and plan long-term work programs is often unavailable in a centralized location.

“Like many other transportation agencies, we frequently rely on highly experienced, 20- to 30-year career veterans to provide chronological details about past flooding problems,” said Megan Arasteh, district drainage engineer for the District 7 Drainage Group. “As these individuals retire, we lose an incredible wealth of knowledge. In their absence, we look to documentation, which is often paper-based and resides in multiple locations.”

In an effort to speed these search capabilities, the District 7 Drainage Group and District 7 GIS coordinator Tom Kelly teamed with PBS&J, a consulting firm specializing in a wide range of infrastructure planning and engineering services, to develop an interactive, web-accessible, GIS-driven flood inventory tracking system. The system is designed to store all historical information about District 7 highways. This includes the knowledge provided by career veterans as well as maintenance reports and historical maps.

“It’s a single centralized GIS-based management system that maintains all past and current flood inventory data along all on-system District 7 roads spanning a five-county area,” explained Arasteh.

Awash in data

FDOT’s District 7 manages 4,327 state highway lane miles and 1,964 Florida intrastate lane miles in the five counties of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas. These counties include the two major cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa and a population of more than 2.6 million residents.

For more than 20 years, FDOT District 7 drainage engineers have relied on a decentralized approach to collecting and archiving flood data about the highways. Arasteh added, “Basically, we did it manually, pulling information from files, talking to other engineers or Florida DOT maintenance personnel, working with paper maps and reading written documentation.”

Predictive models have also been used to forecast flood elevations across the state of Florida. Over the years, however, Arasteh and other drainage engineers have found that complaint records and historic observations made during maintenance operations can be an even greater asset when pinpointing flooding issues and calibrating hydraulic models.

A real-time resource

The District 7 GIS flood inventory system is built on ESRI’s ArcIMS, a GIS web-publishing tool. The tool allows developers to combine both spatial and non-spatial data that include predictive models, historic observations, general public accountings, high-water-mark data, geographic surveys and much more into a comprehensive, department-wide GIS that is available on the FDOT internal website.

The information is organized and stored in a personal geodatabase with attributes such as GPS coordinates, associated documents, problem analysis, permitting records and communication memos.

“With the decentralized system, we used to spend hours and sometimes days gathering this information from the field offices, our files and even our individual databases,” recalled Arasteh. “Now we can gather the same information in minutes. In one click, we can track flood data dynamically via the web, instantly collecting input from residents, maintenance and engineers.”

When waters rise

The flood inventory tracking system includes a unique integrated call center that allows a designated point of contact—such as the public information officer or maintenance engineer—to take input data from property owners or residents and then forward the information to the drainage department to be assigned to a drainage engineer for investigation.

Once a flood investigation is under way, the ArcIMS map interface provides the drainage engineers with a “big picture” view of the problem area, making GIS layers such as pavement conditions, high-resolution aerial photography, USGS contours, Florida Water Management District aerials, soil maps, basin studies and Federal Emergency Management Agency data instantly available for review and analysis.

This detailed drainage investigation and subsequent analysis determines the nature and cause of flooding and also allows the team to prioritize the order in which the flooding problems are resolved and/or included in future District 7 work program projects.

Drainage engineers also generate presentation materials, such as wall maps, mapbooks and custom drainage reports, by using the web interface or the ArcIMS interface.

Readying for launch

Currently, the District 7 flood inventory tracking system is operational on a limited basis in the district headquarters located in Tampa. Arasteh explained, “We’re still pulling information from the maintenance offices and creating the database. Building the system was quick. Gathering the data from the many paper and digital resources takes time. We’re also still compiling valuable knowledge from our veteran engineers.”

Arasteh expects to finish the baseline data gathering by summer 2006, at which time the district will implement the fully functional GIS-based system throughout the district intranet. It will be available to engineers in all three maintenance offices as well as the Tampa headquarters.

“GIS and web-based tools have really opened the door to improved storm water management. The combination of these tools has helped create an incomparable knowledge base, a tremendous data asset for the Department of Transportation,” concluded Arasteh. “With this technology, we have the ability to provide valuable information to our engineers in virtually real-time, which will in turn help us respond quicker to the needs of the traveling public and our citizens.”

The District 7 flood inventory system was built as part of the e-government initiative set forth by Florida’s Office of Information Systems.

About the author

Zumwalt is a GIS developer for PBS&J. He has recently completed his GISP certification and is active in Florida URISA. He can be reached at 813/282-7275, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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