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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - September/October 2004

Internet Watch

FHWA's GIS Web Site Maps the Way for the Transportation Industry

by Keri A. Funderburg
FHWA's "GIS in Transportation" Web site.

In Orange County, CA, an area with a high rate of automobile usage, officials at the county transit agency are using a geographic information system (GIS) to provide detailed information on the area's demographic and land use characteristics to help the agency maximize its effectiveness and efficiency when planning transit services and operations. In Florida, the State department of transportation (DOT) is using GIS to streamline its efforts to identify and analyze the habitat of the black bear, a species important to the study of the highway system's impact on natural habitats in the area.

These and other transportation agencies across the Nation and at all levels of government, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), are finding new ways to use GIS for transportation applications. A new Web site developed by FHWA's Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty now provides a one-stop shop where transportation professionals and the public can learn more about GIS resources. The "GIS in Transportation" Web site, accessible at, highlights noteworthy practices and innovative uses of GIS in transportation projects.

"[Visitors] can read about different GIS-transportation activities occurring across the country," says Mark Sarmiento, a community planner at FHWA. "Transportation professionals can learn about upcoming GIS-related meetings, conferences, reports, and white papers-and publicize their own work. In addition, agencies in the initial stages of implementing a GIS can learn from the experiences of others."

Accessible Applications

The site is divided into several sections. A section called "Applications of GIS" includes information on notable or distinctive uses of GIS or applications that have contributed significantly to a State's transportation system or environmental review process. An interactive map enables users to find out about GIS applications at the State and local levels. The section also describes FHWA's use of the technology, including the Highway Performance Monitoring System Viewer, which enables users to map, view, and compare data on the extent, condition, performance, use, and operating characteristics of the Nation's highways. GIS applications at several other Federal agencies are available as well. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for example, developed EnviroMapperTM to display comprehensive environmental data for the United States, such as water features and brownfield sites.

"One of the biggest features of the Web site is the searchable database of GIS applications," says Sarmiento. "Users can search the site for GIS transportation applications according to keyword, State, an area of interest (such as environment, planning, or transit) or by using a combination of options." Users also can submit information on their own GIS initiatives.

Resource Review

In the "Resources" section, users can learn about conferences, meetings, peer exchanges, and other upcoming events in the field of GIS for transportation. In the future, users also will be able to locate summaries of past events. This section features links to training opportunities around the country, such as GIS-related courses offered by the National Highway Institute and the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service. In addition, users can download reports, including Implementation of GIS-Based Highway Safety Analyses: Bridging the Gap (FHWA-RD-01-039), an FHWA report that discusses the integration of GIS into safety-related analyses.

Helpful Links

The Web site also provides links to other GIS-related sites. From the "Links" section, users can access sites with downloadable data layers pertinent to transportation-oriented GIS and visit commercial vendors that offer applications for opening, reading, and manipulating spatial data. The links also point users to nongovernmental organizations and Federal agencies that conduct and sponsor GIS-related activities.

Other features include a list of FHWA contacts and frequently asked questions and answers that provide basic information about GIS applications.

"The transportation industry and the public both may benefit from the site," Sarmiento says, "[by learning] about the different ways that States and regional and local transportation agencies are using GIS to save time and money in the decisions they make and the projects they implement."

Keri A. Funderburg is a contributing editor for Public Roads.