The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave U.S. roads a “D” grade for their poor condition. However, that’s not the fault of state and municipal departments of transportation (DOTs), which work tirelessly to meet the needs of travelers, carriers, public officials, and regulators. DOTs face many obstacles that impact their ability to effectively plan and manage infrastructure and assets.
Our teams are in the field, interacting with DOTs on a daily basis. We’ve pinpointed three challenges that many DOTs face and offer three solutions that can help departments achieve their goal to deliver quality service.
- Challenge: Funding
Repeated delays in passing a federal transportation authorization bill in recent years and long-term questions over the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund make funding the main challenge for DOTs. While funding sources, such as federal and state fuel taxes, have remained constant for many years, populations have increased, infrastructure has aged and technology has changed. DOTs need more resources to do their jobs.
- Challenge: Safety
Safety is another major concern. Highway safety was featured in the last four federal transportation bills. Unfortunately, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015 marked the largest increase in traffic deaths in 50 years. Preliminary estimates for the first half of 2016 show an “alarming” increase of about 10.4 percent compared to the first half of 2015, according to NHTSA.
- Challenge: Data
The third challenge is a technology problem that causes an operational problem. Our customers are constantly saying they are overwhelmed by the amount of data available. They are drowning in data, but starving for answers. One of the biggest trends is sensor data. A few years ago, only a few departments would have been able to afford LiDAR, but the cost of collecting data has gone down. Data presents opportunities, but only if it can be effectively operationalized.
Solution: Maximize ROI
As a vendor, we can’t solve government funding shortfalls, but we can help protect DOT investments. Many of our people who work on DOT accounts have spent their entire careers solving transportation problems. Domain expertise is extremely important to us, as is re-investment back into R&D, because those things makes a difference in the problem-oriented transportation solutions we provide. As Jay Adams, a member of our team who used to be a DOT customer, says, “With Hexagon, it wasn’t just a business relationship, it was a partnership.” DOTs need partners they can rely on to maximize ROI.
Automation can help improve safety. Look at something like permitting and routing of oversize/overweight vehicles. DOTs struggle to process permits in a timely manner, so some truckers skip permitting altogether. And even when routes are generated by DOTs, the manual process involved can lead to errors, meaning the routes may not be the safest. An automated solution, like our web-based OS/OW solution for route planning, restriction management, and permitting can save time and money and reduce errors. By automating the process, truckers receive a safe route and a legal permit much quicker than before, increasing public and infrastructure safety.
The quicker and easier DOT personnel can make sense of field-collected data the better. One way is to more efficiently process aerial imagery and LiDAR data via capabilities such as full analytical triangulation, digital terrain model generation and 3D feature extraction. By automating precision measurement and including flexible operations such as terrain editing (including stereo) and feature extraction, a tool like ERDAS IMAGINE Photogrammetry can increase productivity, turning data into usable information and throwing a lifeline to those personnel drowning in data.
Some of these challenges are big, and won’t be solved by any one solution, but we’re confident that by targeting those areas where improvements can be made, DOTs can make progress toward maximizing their productivity and efficiency. By doing so, they can better maintain assets and infrastructure and enhance the service they provide to the public.
Please contact me if you’d like to learn more about our views on these problems and solutions.
Mike Deery is the vice president of sales and business development of Americas for Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure’s Utilities, Communication, and Transportation business unit. For nearly three decades, Deery has held various leadership roles in business development, working with IT, industrial, and transportation organizations to solve complex problems with safer and more reliable operations.