Streamlining Transportation Information Systems
Several initiatives to automate many internal business functions have been undertaken by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District Five in Orlando, Florida. These functions include the development of regional impact review, mitigation, work program development and review, and level of service analysis. Recognizing the booming information technology market, the district has initiated programs with the underlying objective of automating transportation planning and policy procedures to reach a goal of a more efficient and effective planning process. Information technology tools, such as geographic information systems (ArcGIS and ArcIMS), relational database management systems, and Web-based delivery mechanisms, are either currently being utilized in the automation effort or will be in the near future. This article reviews these current initiatives and discusses their foreseen outcomes as well as future potential information technology prospects.
This streamlining of many processes and tasks by developing a data integration system has materialized over the past year and has saved time and money while significantly increasing the quality of work.
The origin of this system began many years ago as a mainframe data comparison system. At that time, data describing financial information about roadway facility and program projects, which was stored on the mainframe, was compared with spreadsheets that were maintained in the district planning office. This comparison was very helpful for various planning analysis tasks.
If comparing a few datasets is good, comparing hundreds of datasets could be even better, if done correctly. Over the years more and more information has been made available through advances in technology and improvements in communications throughout the department. Very recently, several technology tools have been developed that allow the information to be shown in graphic rather than tabular form.
The resulting project is TAIMS, or the Transportation Automated Information Management System. The core datasets in TAIMS are the:
- Work Program Project Databases
- Roadway Characteristics Inventory (RCI)
- Florida Geographic Data Library (FGDL)
RCI and FGDL provide the geographic base complete with monthly updates from Tallahassee’s FDOT Central Office statistics unit for specific roadway segment data. This information is stored on a data server and viewed within an interface that also provides access to many datasets maintained in the district’s planning office in Orlando.
|Figure 1 - TAIMS log-in page|
TAIMS is organized by functional groups within the planning office. Each section of TAIMS includes forms, queries, reports, maps, and links. Forms allow easy input into databases. Queries allow specific information to be extracted. Reports organize and display data in various formats, sometimes matching documents and spreadsheets traditionally used over the years, and sometimes showing those created for a specific purpose. Three levels of mapping graphically depict datasets. Links send the users to other sites within the FDOT intranet or to external sites (see Figure 1
TAIMS users generally fall into two categories: database users or map users. The following will describe database efforts and mapping efforts within TAIMS.
The development of TAIMS has already provided a significant savings in time and an increase in quality of work product. One example of this can be found in the development of District Five's LOS_all, a database of congestion levels on each section of state roadway throughout the Central Florida area. In past years this information has been stored in a spreadsheet and updated by manually checking roadway characteristics data for every roadway segment in the district. This year, the characteristics stored in LOS_all were mapped and compared with the characteristics updated monthly by the Tallahassee statistics office. The resulting product is a database that can be represented in a table or on a map. Because it has been cross-referenced with the statewide RCI database, the quality of the product has been improved even though the level of effort has been reduced. The following graphics highlight the LOS tool functionality within TAIMS (see Figures 2, 3, and 4).
|Figure 2 - LOS tool functionality|
|Figure 3 - Level of service example 1|
|Figure 4 - Level of service example 2|
The next phase of development in TAIMS will showcase another database effort in D5 planning that has already saved the department a significant amount of money and time. District Five Planning Technical Applications Group has created an Archive Design Traffic Database to keep track of completed ESAL (Equivalent Single Axle Loading) and PD&E (Project Development and Environment) final traffic reports. These reports are initiated in planning but used by other sections throughout the district.
Previously the final planning documents have been stored but rarely used other than for the initial purpose, partly because the hard copies of the documents have not been easy to access. Planning office staff realized that the information in these documents could be used for many other tasks if it were made accessible.
In the process of developing the database, staff included several factors from the completed reports to allow interested parties to retrieve this current information for new construction and resurfacing projects. As a result the database has saved in excess of $35,000 over a period of about three months in requests for new traffic reports by obtaining valid information from the archived design traffic database.
The actual paper document is still stored in the same manner as before, but the data is stored in an Access database. The ESAL document is assumed to be valid for a period of two years. The archive database retains ESAL documents for a period of three years and automatically purges the old documents. Additional information will be retrieved from the traffic reports and forwarded to the statistics group for their use. Technical applications staff is in discussions with the statistics unit to try to find some common needs and tasks to be undertaken jointly rather than separately by various consultants. This may result in further cost savings and increased product value. The Design Traffic database will soon be available for access in TAIMS for any party with interest in this information.
The planning office works with outside agencies frequently to receive and provide information. One group within planning works with Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and rural counties to assist in the development of a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which is made up in part by information from the department's adopted five-year work program. The department provides a copy of its work program, which the local agency sorts through in order to retrieve relevant information. Last year, the planning office provided many of these local agencies with TAIMS reports instead of the traditional paper copy of the work program.
|Figure 5 - TIP tool|
|Figure 6 - TIP report|
The TAIMS report used raw work program data from the mainframe and formatted it according to the specific agency's TIP format. The result was time savings both to department staff and the local agency's staff. This year, any TIP reports produced last year can be used with the new data, and the task is already complete. The planning office intends to finish developing reports for any local agencies that did not receive this type of report last year. In future years, when it is time to send the TIP report, all the work will be done and the entire task will be accomplished with a simple email. The following graphics highlight the TIP tool in TAIMS (see Figures 5
There are several other ongoing database efforts within the district. Each of them share a commonality, which is that data can be entered or maintained within a form, pulled out specifically within a query, or produced for final output through a report. Many of the datasets also have a mapping component, which can be generated in ArcGIS or ArcIMS, or displayed through a series of jpg files containing pre-made maps.
Geographic information system (GIS) technology is rapidly emerging as the one of the easiest ways to quickly interpret transportation data. TAIMS utilizes GIS through ESRI products for three different user levels.
The most basic level of mapping contained within the system consists of a set of approximately 30 graphics for each of nine counties within the district. Each of these graphic files shows a basemap with a specific data layer or layers added. Currently, these maps are generated in Arcview and exported to jpg. This process results in what is referred to within the office as "TAIMS for Dummies." This level of mapping has been created for those users who just wish to look at a final product map that is produced on a regular schedule. The technical applications group has begun producing these maps on a schedule, with some datasets being updated yearly and others monthly or even more frequently.
The maps fall into three categories: the District Needs Assessment series, which includes general information about the district, such as roadway projects, congestion levels, and land use information; the RCI series, which is specific information about each roadway segment in the district such as median width or number of lanes; and the environmental series, which contains information about features such as wetlands, basins, and floodplains.
The next level of mapping within TAIMS pulls data layers created from database and spreadsheet programs, text files or Word documents. Some of the data is input through Web forms built within TAIMS. This information is then sent to dbf files, and event themes are created on the statewide roadway basemap. The resulting layers are divided into related subjects and put into various ArcIMS views. Intermediate users can turn layers off and on, zoom, measure, and query within ArcIMS. Future plans for this level include an expansion of customized views for each planning section and the creation of pushbutton simple automation of repetitive transportation analysis tasks now performed manually.
The most advanced level of mapping within the system is traditional GIS. Any layers utilized in the ArcIMS version can also be accessed in ArcGIS or ArcView 3.x. This is the level at which a user is able to edit geographic information. Since TAIMS is accessed only through user name and password, the data is protected from unauthorized changes.
The next step in TAIMS development is to conduct a business process analysis to determine informational needs that can be met by the system. This process is now underway. After the analysis is complete, district management will evaluate and prioritize the needs and weigh them with available funding to determine how the system will be improved. It is anticipated that cost savings already realized by utilization of TAIMS will more than fund many of the enhancements that will be considered.