Road maps to the future

Web service gives planners a new view of transportation data

Maps can be a big help when you're trying to get from one place to another.

For Transportation Department officials and members of Congress, maps are also useful in decision- making. At their request, the department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) has embarked on a project to enable users to create customized maps online.

In mid-May, BTS added a Mapping Center section to its Intermodal Transportation Database (www.itdb. bts.gov), a portal still in development that is being designed as a single access point for data the department collects. BTS officials say the Mapping Center, which offers five mapping applications (see box), will breathe new life into storehouses of data previously presentable only in formats that could be difficult to use.

"This data has been around a long time, but historically it's only been shown in tables and hard-copy reports," said Steve Lewis, geographic information systems applications manager at BTS. "We've taken this data, applied spatial attributes and [can now] show it on a map."

That should give transportation and other policy-makers new perspectives from which to make better decisions, according to BTS officials.

"This will have an impact on transportation planners, local and state governments, and more," said Catrina Pavlik, a BTS spokeswoman. "It will affect the future of transportation and the way it's planned."

In addition to the immediate benefit to planners, the Intermodal Transportation Database mapping services will support the National Spatial Data Infrastructure being built for the ordered collection and sharing of geospatial data, and it will promote interoperability—the ability to share data between Internet mapping applications across agencies—which GIS proponents have long touted.

"They're ahead of the curve. They've done a significant project," said Todd Rogers, federal marketing manager for Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI), Redlands, Calif. "Many agencies will use their application as a benchmark for how to move forward using GIS for data dissemination."

The Mapping Center's initial applications were developed at the request of DOT leaders in various agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration, said Carol Brandt, GIS program manager at BTS. In 1998, Congress mandated the database's overall development to pull together data normally maintained by various DOT agencies.

Brandt said many people, including lawmakers, are interested in maps showing where federal transportation grant money goes. One of the five mapping applications enables users to see how much money, in total or per capita, has been provided to states, counties, DOT regions or congressional districts in a given year. Users can display grant funding by the DOT agency handing it out, the governments or organizations receiving it, the purpose of the grant or any combination of the three.

"It gives a holistic view for that piece of geography that you're interested in," Rogers said. "Before, they weren't able to do this without a lot of research involved."

BTS is using ESRI's ArcIMS 3.1 Internet mapping tool and its Spatial Database Engine product—housed on top of an Oracle Corp. database—to access and display its various datasets.

Intermodal Transportation Database developers eventually want to make the database's mapping applications interoperable with data from other federal agencies, Brandt said. For example, highway-use data merged with Environmental Protection Agency data could show how vehicles affect air quality in an area.

MORE INFO

Five new views

In its initial offerings, the Mapping Center section of the Intermodal

Transportation Database—operated by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics—enables users to create maps based on five types of data:

* DOT grants, by type, jurisdiction, agency and more.

* Federal Railroad Administration grade-crossing accidents, from 1995

to 1999, and accident reports.

* Highway Performance Monitoring System, by ownership, truck percentage

and more.

* Airline market share, from the Office of Airline Information, including

route maps between airports and routes within a given distance from an

airport.

* Vehicle miles traveled, by total miles traveled and miles per capita.

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