States clamor for civilian GPS

Federal officials and representatives of a dozen state departments of transportation

on Sunday proved there's momentum behind expanding a satellite positioning

system that garners little support from Congress.

An aggressive schedule would expand the Coast Guard's Differential Global

Positioning System into a Nationwide Differential GPS (NDGPS) by the end

of 2003. However, funding is continually a roadblock, said representatives

from the Coast Guard and Federal Railroad Administration during a meeting

of the Civil GPS Service Interface Committee in Salt Lake City.

NDGPS is used by states for precise mapping and surveying and is being looked

at as an aid for intelligent transportation systems. Farmers use the system

for precision agriculture. The railroad industry is counting on NDGPS for

train control, which would provide precise location information during travel.

The Coast Guard operates a network of DGPS stations along the coastal United

States. To serve inland states, the Air Force gave DOT 60 Ground Wave Emergency

Network stations to be converted to NDGPS towers. It costs about $200,000

to convert the GWEN sites, said Richard Shamberger, NDGPS program sponsor

at the Federal Railroad Administration.

The U.S. Transportation Department's fiscal 2001 budget request includes

$18.7 million for NDGPS. But the House did not recommend funding NDGPS,

and the Senate proposed putting the money in the Federal Aviation Administration's

pot with GPS augmentation systems designed for aviation. House and Senate

conferees are expected to take up the matter within the coming two weeks.

With about 10 GWEN sites already converted, Lt. Cmdr. Gary Schenk, who leads

DGPS operations for the Coast Guard, said he plans to use the rest of his

fiscal 2000 funds to convert six more sites. If DOT gets the $18.7 million

it requested for fiscal 2001, $13.2 million would be used to buy equipment

and convert more sites. The rest would be used to operate the existing network.

The last part of the project is to build new sites. However, without more

resources earlier in the program, Schenk said he doesn't think 2003 is a

realistic date for completion.

Some states that were supposed to get NDGPS stations already are feeling

the pinch. For example:

* Wyoming's government had participated in meetings that would help it get

an NDGPS site, "but we still have a black hole sitting right in the heart

of the country," said Curtis Clabaugh, Wyoming photogrammetry and survey


* Vermont's only NDGPS coverage will come from a soon-to-be-operated station

in Hudson Falls, N.Y.

* North Dakota has a hole in the northwestern portion of the state, where

farmers are eager to use the technology, according to DeLane Meier, surveys

and photogrammetry manager in the North Dakota DOT. The closest stations

are in South Dakota and Nebraska, which makes it difficult to use GPS for

real-time positioning.


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