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How Big Data Drives Transportation Spending

How Big Data Drives Transportation Spending, Ronnie Williams

Many of us are aware of the nation’s infrastructure troubles. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives it a D+ on its most recent Infrastructure Report Card. At the current pace of repair, it will take 80 years to restore the country’s deteriorating bridges, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

The question is, what do we do now? With infrastructure challenges all around us, where do we begin?

Infrastructure investment decisions should consider the safety and needs of all users, whether they are traveling by car, bicycle, foot or wheelchair. Improving accessibility, reducing congestion and emissions, and increasing mass transit use are all reasonable goals.

To assess and rank priorities, start with the data.

The fact is, more actionable transportation-related data is available today than ever before. Many roadways are equipped to measure traffic flow and travel times. Roadway crashes are mapped and logged in almost real time. Robust datasets built with this and other information can be used to make informed decisions on where and how to invest infrastructure funds.

Data can be especially helpful in supporting projects related to:

Improving safety — The digitization of crash reports makes it possible for cities, counties, departments of transportation and entire regions to map historical locations of accidents. This data can be used to pinpoint high-risk locations, identify root causes and develop cost-effective crash mitigation solutions that improve corridor mobility, safety and reliability.

Understanding growth — Understanding how and where a region is growing can be vital in targeting infrastructure investments. Many government agencies, as well as private companies like Google, perform regular aerial mapping. The resulting datasets can be used to identify land use changes. In many instances, GIS data maintained by public agencies also maps zoning changes.

Collecting public input — No one knows a community’s needs better than the people who live there. Many voices have historically gone unheard, however, because many people can’t attend public meetings or they feel their voices don’t matter. But communities can now host virtual public meetings and solicit online feedback that can be implemented into a GIS dataset, organized by respondent addresses. In addition to identifying regional priorities, this makes it possible to identify response patterns and learn how concerns differ by geographic area.

Project planning — Many projects begin as planning efforts to budget future funds. Engineers and planners can use GIS data to identify environmental constraints, develop proposed concept maps and perform other preliminary analysis.

The nation’s transportation infrastructure, in short, needs much more investment than current budgets can accommodate. Data can help identify where limited funds are best spent.

 

Third-party data can support other projects, adding considerable value to highway safety analysis, long-range planning or development of funding plans for implementation.

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Ronnie Williams
Written by Ronnie Williams
RONNIE WILLIAMS, PE, PTOE, is an associate traffic engineer and project manager at Burns & McDonnell. His background includes transportation planning and traffic engineering work promoting the safe and efficient movement of traffic across the nation's transportation system.

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