Planes, trains, autos all on one site

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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A new World Wide Web site being launched this fall will bring together

information about planes, trains and automobiles, helping people ranging

from the general public to expert researchers obtain data that would normally

require visiting multiple Transportation Department offices and Web sites.

The Intermodal Transportation Data Base (ITDB), which will be available

through the Bureau of Transportation Statistics' Web site (www.bts.gov),

will provide a data mining portal for transportation data from all of the

department's operating units, which generally act independently and maintain

their own data sets, said Peg Young, a mathematical statistician at BTS.

Because of the independent nature of DOT's units — which include the

Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the

Coast Guard and the Federal Railroad Administration — one of the concerns

of Congress and President Clinton was the difficulty in pulling data together

to make transportation funding and strategic decisions, Young said.

As part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, DOT was

required to put together the Web-based ITDB to provide information about

safety, demographic, economic and travel statistics collected by various

department agencies.

The database will facilitate the department's move to e-government and

will promote the involvement of a well-informed public in transportation

policy, according to DOT.

The department eventually plans to make the database available via any

DOT unit's home page, said Terry Klein, program manager for BTS' Office

of Information Technology, created in early June.

Klein also hopes ITDB will drive the creation of departmentwide records

to replace the current system, in which different DOT operating units sometimes

maintain overlapping or redundant data.

Other agencies — such as intelligence agencies throughout government

that are part of a classified network and the various federal, state and

local agencies that collect geographic data — also are trying to coordinate

the collection and storage of data into centralized centers. Intelink, the

classified intranet for intelligence agencies, is moving toward the idea

of a data center to centralize the collection and maintenance of information

produced by different agencies.

Young expects that the largest group of users for ITDB will be the general

public, accounting for about 40 percent of the database's transactions.

Those users will require the simplest interface and a phone help desk, she

said. About 35 percent of the users will be analysts. They will require

complicated statistical information as well as more sophisticated technical

assistance. Another 20 percent will include congressional staff, and expert

users such as statisticians will probably make up about 5 percent, she said.

A team of contractors from Advanced Management Technology Inc., Indus

Corp. and Vistronix Inc. has been working on the database for the past six

months. The Web-based application will have the ability to store, retrieve

and update queries and will be equipped with help screens. Some of the most

useful information will be in the form of geographic information systems,

in which information can be viewed as maps and tabular or graphical presentations.

The site will first be available in the next few weeks with some early

query functions, but the official launch will not be until fall, Young said.

The system will run on its own Oracle Corp. database, populated with

data extracted from other systems within DOT, Klein said. By creating a

new database that contains the files, Klein expects users to get quicker

responses than if BTS had just built pointers to the data and left it in

the constituent databases.

Updating the database will be a "management challenge," Klein said,

but plans are already under way to improve communication between BTS' and

DOT's operating units. BTS is recruiting more staff to help with the outreach

effort and will create a working group that will be kept in the loop when

a DOT unit's data is updated.

"We want to make certain we're doing well not only for DOT but for the federal

government as a whole," Young said. "The hardest part is getting data from

individual agencies."

Another issue that needs to be addressed in the future is how to notify

users that data has been updated, she said.

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