Case Study Inventory of State Departments of Transportation

March 2008

Prepared for:
Office of Interstate and Border Planning
Federal Highway Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation

Prepared by:
Planning and Policy Analysis Division
John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
Research and Innovative Technology Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation

Table of Contents


Background and Purpose
Organization of Document


The Expansion of GIS at State DOTs
Internal Organization and Data Acquisition

Key Success Factors

Funding Recommendations
Data Standards Recommendations
Outreach and Advocacy Recommendations

APPENDIX A:  State DOT Staff Interviewed
APPENDIX B:  Pre-Interview Questionnaire
APPENDIX C:  State DOT Case Studies

List of Figures (in Appendix C)
Figure 1: Alabama Department of Transportation Organization Chart, Central Office Complex Bureau
Figure 2: Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department Organization Chart
Figure 3: California Department of Transportation Office of Geospatial Information Systems Organization Chart
Figure 4: Colorado Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 5: Connecticut Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 6: Florida Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 7: Hawaii Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 8: Indiana Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 9: Iowa Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 10: Kansas Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 11: Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Organization Chart
Figure 12: Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Organization Chart
Figure 13: Maine Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 14: Michigan Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 15: Minnesota Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 16: Mississippi Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 17: Nebraska Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 18: Nevada Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 19: New Jersey Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 20: New Mexico Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 21: New Hampshire Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 22: North Dakota Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 23: Ohio Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 24: Oregon Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 25: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 26: South Dakota Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 27: Tennessee Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 28: Tennessee DOT Program Development Process
Figure 29: Utah Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 30: Vermont Agency of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 31: Virginia Department of Transportation Organization Chart
Figure 32: Washington Department of Transportation Organization Chart


This report was prepared by the U.S. Department of Transportation John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center), in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The project team was led by Carson D. Poe, of the Planning and Policy Analysis Division, and included Jeffrey Bryan and Ann Steffes, also of the Planning and Policy Analysis Division, and Gina Filosa, of Cambridge Systematics, and Alisa Zlotoff, of Chenega Advanced Solutions and Engineering.

The Volpe Center project team wishes to thank the numerous state Department of Transportation staff - each listed in Appendix B - who graciously provided their time, knowledge, and guidance in the development of this report.

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I. Introduction

Over the past 30 years, professionals in a variety of fields have increasingly recognized Geographic Information Systems (GIS)1 and other geospatial tools as resources that enable better and more efficient decision-making. During this time, state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) have progressively utilized geospatial information and technologies in a variety of activities including planning, decision support, and project management.

In 2005-2006, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Interstate and Border Planning (HEPI), along with several state transportation executives, conducted a series of site visits to transportation agencies and GIS vendors to identify the critical information that state DOTs use in making investment decisions in the latest geospatial technologies.2 Following the scan, FHWA HEPI and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) hosted a one-day workshop to discuss the scan findings. One of the workshop recommendations was to document state DOTs' various business models for implementing geospatial technologies. The outcome would be a resource to share lessons learned and effective practices among state DOTs.

In 2006, the Volpe Center developed case studies for HEPI that described the business models for geospatial technology implementation at six state DOTs.3 The findings reported there suggested that the early history of implementing GIS at state DOTs was a primary factor determining how GIS activities are currently organizationally arranged and funded; there was no evidence of drastic or unexpected organizational changes for GIS programs. In order to supplement and enhance these and other conclusions, this follow-on report documents the 'GIS business models' for an additional 36 of the Nation's state DOTs. This report summarizes the "phase two" research. It describes the historical and organizational factors contributing to the development of GIS programs at state DOTs, as well as related effective practices. Given this second phase's considerably larger state DOT sample size, generalizations about the organizational success factors and constraints related to GIS activities at state DOTs are likely more comprehensive.


This report is arranged into the following four sections:

  • "Case Study Approach" describes how the study was conducted, as well as limitations to the approach;
  • "Business Model Practices for GIS at State DOTs" provides comparisons on how state DOTs have organized their GIS programs;
  • "Challenges and Success Factors" identifies common challenges that state DOTs have faced and success factors that have helped them address these challenges; and,
  • "Recommendations for FHWA" includes specific suggestions for how FHWA can continue to support state DOTs in implementing their respective GIS activities.

The Appendices comprise a listing of state DOT staff interviewed, a pre-interview questionnaire, and individual case studies for each state DOT. Case studies describe the state DOTs' early geospatial histories, their current business models, and lessons interviewees identified as critical to securing long-term support for geospatial technologies.

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II. Case Study Approach

To conduct the study, the project team identified preliminary points of contact (POCs) for each state DOT and scheduled phone interviews with POCs and/or their colleagues (see Appendix A). Case studies were then drafted based on the interviews and any relevant supplemental materials interviewees provided. These steps are described in more detail below.

POC Identification
The project team set out to interview state DOT staff people who would best be able to provide insights into the GIS program's history, including where GIS activities have been located organizationally and how the program has changed; geospatial data availability and acquisition; factors influencing funding decisions; and obstacles, key success factors, and future plans. To find these staff, the project team targeted preliminary POCs in two ways:

  1. Participants from two recent peer exchanges that FHWA sponsored were contacted first.4 It was expected that these peer exchange participants would be familiar with the study, as FHWA had mentioned that an effort was underway to research state DOTs' GIS business models.
  2. The primary contacts listed on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official's (AASHTO) 2007 GIS-T website.5

The project team contacted the preliminary POCs first via an introductory email, then via phone. The email contained information about the effort's purpose, scope, and previous findings (i.e., the first phase report). The email also requested that POCs suggest other interviewees should there have been more appropriate people with whom to speak. In all cases, the person(s) interviewed self-identified himself or herself as the proper contact(s); each DOT's internal process for confirming or assigning staff members for the interviews is unknown. Phone interviews were then scheduled. For state DOTs that did not respond to an introductory email, two additional attempts were made to schedule interviews. The project team considered those who did not respond after a third attempt as non-participants in this phase of the study.

All interviews were conducted as teleconferences lasting between 30 and 60 minutes. A pre-interview questionnaire (see Appendix B), supplemented by a more detailed interview guide, steered the conversations. The pre-interview questionnaire was simply a guide to the calls, designed to introduce interviewees to the types of inquiries that would be explored during the interviews. Interviewees were not expected to provide written responses to the pre-interview questionnaires, although some did.

Case Study Preparation and Review
Drafts of the case studies were emailed to interviewees no later than four weeks after the interview. Interviewees were asked to review the write up, make edits where necessary, and return revised drafts to the project team. Drafts were considered 'final' after interviewees submitted changes and the project team had revised the draft based on the suggested changes. When requested, the project team provided interviewees with a revised draft for a second round of state DOT review. Final case studies are presented in Appendix C.

The project team assumed that:

  • Interviewees would be able to accurately characterize their DOTs' respective GIS programs. In some DOTs, there were several potential interviewees. The project team interviewed only those who had identified themselves as the correct contacts.
  • The GIS business models at state DOTs have varied histories that do not always have clear start and end points and are dynamic. The case studies in Appendix C present snapshots in time and should not convey the impression that state DOTs' GIS business models are static.
  • This effort did not duplicate other efforts. While similar work has been completed previously,6 it was assumed that prior inquiry into the fundamental organizational factors of state DOTs' GIS programs had not occurred as comprehensively as in this study.
  • The pre-interview questionnaire and interview guide would provide enough standardization across interviews to enable a comparison of business models once all interviews were complete. The project team did not request that state DOTs complete and return the questionnaire.

Limitations in conducting this effort were:

  • In most cases, the project team conducted only one interview with each State DOT; brief follow-up interviews were held on three occasions. The information compiled for the case studies was based on the primary interview with POCs, follow-up interviews (if they occurred), and feedback received from each interviewee(s) on the written case study.
  • The project team was unable to verify all information collected during interviews. The POCs' characterizations and descriptions of the GIS business models were assumed to be objective and accurate.
  • Interviews were semi-structured, guided by a set of questions but allowed to veer so that interviewees could discuss topics of interest related to geospatial technologies or GIS business practices but not specifically included in the interview guide. The interviews varied in length, questions asked, and order of questions based on the flow of the conversation and the interviewees' responses. As previously indicated, it was assumed that the pre-interview questionnaire and interview guide would provide enough standardization across interviews to enable a comparison of business models.
  • Observations made in the case studies completed during the first phase of this study (Arizona DOT; Delaware DOT; Georgia DOT; Montana DOT; North Carolina DOT; Oklahoma DOT) are not included in the analysis presented in this report. The project team concluded that for meaningful comparisons of GIS business models, the interviews should be conducted within six months of each other to control for variations in widespread exogenous conditions. Phase I was completed March 2007. It was also not known during Phase I that a Phase II study would be conducted.

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III. Business Model Practices For GIS at State DOTs

The following sections present a variety of business practices and models that state DOT GIS staff members described. Examples taken from individual state DOT case studies are included to help illustrate how particular business practices have been operationalized. The intent of utilizing case examples in these instances, however, is to share information about how state DOTs have organized their GIS programs and is not to suggest that the highlighted practices are superior to other practices.


The introduction of GIS at the 36 interviewed state DOTs7 occurred across a wide spectrum of time, ranging from the late 1970s to early 2000. Although each DOT had a unique story of when, why, and how GIS was introduced within their agency, many state DOTs described a common story: GIS activities typically grew from the specific needs of one function or division, for example, to support the digitization of maps used by planning divisions or as a tool to support engineering roadway design activities. Upon observing the success that early adopters experienced, other divisions' interest and support for geospatial technologies then grew (or is growing). As a result of increased training across the organization and improved software ease of use, GIS has expanded to many different functions within state DOTs. Today, numerous divisions are using GIS, including divisions responsible for program management; asset management, environmental services, design, maintenance, operations, traffic, safety, geotechnical, and right-of-way.

At most state DOTs, early data collection efforts involved scanning and digitizing Mylar and United States Geological Survey (USGS) quadrangle maps. These spatial data were often stored in numerous isolated databases used for specific applications. From there, many DOTs began collecting road centerline data using Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS). GPS continues to be a valuable data collection tool, with many state DOTs equipping maintenance, operations and safety staff with GPS devices in order to facilitate spatial data collection as part of routine duties in the field. Currently, a number of DOTs are moving away from application-centric models towards enterprise systems where several geospatial applications are integrated into one system that is accessible via the intra- and internet.

Many state DOTs are also partnering with other state agencies to undertake more advanced efforts to update and collect additional spatial data. One increasingly popular activity is the acquisition of aerial photography and use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a remote sensing technology used to collect topographic data. Through collaboration and cost-sharing with public or private partners, these often costly data collection efforts are becoming more feasible. Furthermore, nearly all DOTs interviewed participate in statewide data-sharing arrangements by contributing to and extracting from statewide spatial data clearinghouses. Similarly, several DOTs are expanding their spatial data collection efforts beyond the state-managed roadway system to include all public roads. In doing so, DOTs rely heavily on county, city and town officials to collect and update data. A small number of DOTs have developed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with counties to define these cost and data-sharing arrangements.

According to interviews, there has not been a predominant way in which state DOTs manage GIS programs; some programs are more structured, while others have been managed in a more ad hoc manner. More specifically, approximately 6 out of the 36 interviewed state DOTs use some form of a geospatial steering committee - which typically includes representatives from various DOT divisions - to outline the long-term objectives of the GIS program and define necessary action steps. Conversely, about 18 of the interviewed state DOTs make the majority of their decisions on GIS application, data, and staffing requirements based on the needs of specific projects as they arise.


In recent years, the tendency has been for state DOTs to move towards a service-oriented architecture in which expert staff - whether located in a planning or information technology division, a separate GIS office or elsewhere - are responsible for developing and maintaining GIS base layers. End users throughout the DOT are then able to customize the enterprise-wide technology and data according to their own needs. Some DOTs have found that by assigning a coordinating role for GIS activities to one division, actions such as application development and data sharing can be accomplished in a manner that efficiently meets multiple business units' needs and objectives.

While there appears to be no overall correlation between such factors as the year in which GIS began, its funding and/or GIS functions at state DOTs,8 the state DOTs' comments regarding the organizational composition of their GIS activities exposed a number of trends. Some of the prevailing tendencies are described below. In instances where more than one state DOT expressed the same comment(s), observations have been merged to capture a general sentiment. Counts, where provided, are only approximations. Comments fell into a continuum and could not always be unequivocally characterized. Some observations include:

  • Twenty-four out of the 36 (~ 65 percent) interviewed state DOTs reported having a centralized business model for GIS in which a headquarters-based office coordinates GIS activities for the Department. In these cases, the organization usually consists of a core GIS unit that is responsible for maintaining and updating the geospatial data-feeding enterprise applications. In this business model, GIS end users are typically distributed across the DOT, although some DOTs reported having concentrations of end users in a few specific bureaus, divisions, or offices.
  • Eleven (~ 30 percent) of the interviewed state DOTs reported having a less centralized business model for GIS. These DOTs were usually characterized by several separate and/or relatively autonomous GIS 'units,' offices, or business groups distributed across the agency. While state DOTs with more centralized GIS business models generally used one geospatial platform (e.g., ESRI, Intergraph), some state DOTs reporting a distributed model used multiple platforms. Many state DOTs describing a decentralized GIS business model often noted that other DOT business areas independently develop and manage their own geospatial applications.
  • Six (~ 16 percent) of the interviewed state DOTs not already centralized reported a focus on moving towards greater centralization of GIS activities and the development of an enterprise GIS. High-level management support for an enterprise GIS was cited as a key factor guiding these state DOTs' anticipated directions.
  • Fourteen out of 36 (~ 40 percent) interviewed state DOTs had GIS divisions located in an Information Technology (IT) or IT-related business area. Approximately one-third reported that GIS activities are located in a planning business area. The remaining have organized GIS activities into other business areas, such as engineering and design. Some state DOTs reported a current focus on moving the GIS unit towards an IT business area.
  • Twenty-nine (~ 82 percent) of the interviewed state DOTs located their core GIS staff in one business division, whether an IT, planning, or other office. Four state DOTs organized core GIS staff in two business areas - both planning and IT - while three reporting have core GIS staff distributed across multiple divisions.
  • Just over half of state DOTs interviewed (~ 20) reported coordinating with a state clearinghouse or state GIS council for managing geospatial data. Other state DOTs (~ 10) described collaborations with federal agencies (such as the USGS or the Farm Service Agency), local and tribal governments, and/or academic institutions to support DOT geospatial data-gathering efforts. Approximately five state DOTs reported that data were collected primarily from internal DOT sources.


The state DOTs interviews highlighted an assortment of practices guiding how GIS staff members interact with internal and external GIS end users in terms of providing access to data and addressing requests for services. Some of the practices include:

  • Collaborative user interaction - Several state DOTs reported collaboration with end users or other DOT business areas as a method to identify departmental business needs and priorities, update geospatial data, and/or develop more robust geospatial applications. In one example, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation obtains geospatial data from the Commonwealth's municipalities, as well as any group or member of the public who identifies new information or existing data errors. In this interactive and collaborative model, end users provide data updates and corrections directly to the Executive Office of Transportation. In another example, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) maintains a partnership with a local university to create and maintain street centerlines and other feature data such as bridges. In addition, as a part of its day-to-day business functions, KDOT surveyors collect geospatial data that is eventually incorporated into the Department's internal GIS web portal.

    The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) utilizes a decentralized business model to support 12 autonomous District-level GIS programs. ODOT's field staff and GIS end-user customers gather geospatial data as part of their daily duties and data-collection is a highly collaborative process. ODOT has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 30 counties to establish a cooperative data-collection procedure. Under the MOU, ODOT provides counties with a portion of funds they require to make improvements to county road networks. In return, counties provide ODOT with access to their respective road datasets. ODOT reported that the MOU also has been helpful in ensuring that ODOT and its counties utilize the same data-collection frameworks and standards.

  • Public-private partnerships - Collaboration with the private sector is used to interact with both internal and external end users. For example, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) contracts with a private-sector company, Tele Atlas, to manage Caltrans' geospatial data attributes in a Tele Atlas product. In turn, Caltrans provides the most recent State Highway System data updates to Tele Atlas. This partnership arrangement benefits both Caltrans and Tele Atlas by broadening the geospatial data library and making data more robust and accurate. In addition, Caltrans has recently negotiated another agreement with Tele Atlas to share the company's non-proprietary data with the public.
  • 'Regionalism' - Taking a regional rather than state-by-state perspective on geospatial data was another way in which state DOTs interacted with end users across DOT business areas. For example, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) described using GIS to display "snapshots" of travel corridors that cross the state's boundaries into neighboring states. Using this regional perspective, ITD reported that it could more effectively respond to travelers' needs, for example, by providing accurate alternative-route recommendations during weather-related emergencies.

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While each interviewed state DOT has a unique experience in implementing its GIS program, the challenges they faced often overlapped. The most frequently reported challenges can be organized into two categories: staffing - insufficient number of employees and inadequate staffing classification, and data - problems with compilation and standardization.

  • Staffing - Eight state DOTs indicated that inadequate staffing levels and difficulty in filling GIS positions were challenges to implementing a GIS program. Twelve of the 36 interviewed state DOTs operate with five or fewer GIS staff members. This sometimes hinders the GIS units' abilities to quickly meet their Department's GIS needs and constrains program growth. In addition, state DOTs mentioned that a lack of a well-defined 'GIS Specialist' job classification creates an obstacle when recruiting staff. For example, many states do not have a specific GIS job series but use other categories, such as 'IT Analyst' or 'Business Analyst' categories to fill positions. The skills and prerequisites identified in these job classifications often do not adequately capture the requirements needed for GIS positions, resulting in a small pool of qualified job applicants.

    Some state DOTs that moved their GIS functions underneath an IT function mentioned the ability to implement a more strategic enterprise model throughout the organization by being able to more easily train end users. State DOTs using this model often produce fewer maps for their internal or external customers; rather the customers produced GIS maps themselves. In these cases, it was a concern that map-making expertise in the GIS units would be lost over time.

  • Data - Nine states identified challenges relating to standards for collecting and sharing geospatial data. Since DOTs regularly use spatial data collected from a variety of sources, they often face the need to re-format and re-standardize data to make the information compatible with existing systems, such as the linear referencing system. Furthermore, several state DOTs commented have faced difficulties in establishing internal, open data-sharing environments. Fearing a loss of autonomy, staff members from various business areas in the DOTs are sometimes reluctant to provide other business areas data they collected or acquired on their own.

Conversations with state DOTs revealed a number of strategies that have helped address challenges:

  • Develop both "vertical" and "horizontal" support for GIS (14 state DOTs, or 39 percent);
  • Develop and document data standards (12 state DOTs, or 33 percent);
  • Provide adequate training to GIS end users (11 state DOTs, or 31 percent);
  • Focus on the DOT's business needs (11 state DOTs, 31 percent);
  • Establish good working relationships (9 state DOTs, or 25 percent);
  • Develop a GIS strategic plan (8 state DOTs, or 22 percent); and
  • Develop the GIS program incrementally (5 states, or 14 percent).

These success factors are described in more detail below and examples from the individual case studies (see Appendix C) are cited.

Develop Both "Vertical" and "Horizontal" Support for GIS - Nearly half of the interviewed state DOTs mentioned that a critical factor for successfully implementing an effective GIS program is generating support for spatial analysis at both the upper management and the end-user levels. Support for GIS among the DOT's decision-makers is paramount in order to secure required funding and staffing. Additionally, staff at the end user level must believe in the value and benefits of performing spatial analysis in order for GIS to be embraced as a core business practice. End users need to be interested in GIS and be willing to learn how to navigate GIS applications in order to incorporate the technology into day-to-day activities.

In order to build interest and gain support for GIS at the executive and end-user levels, GIS staff can take advantage of outreach opportunities to showcase the capabilities and benefits of GIS. The interviewed state DOTs identified a variety of opportunities to increase the visibility of GIS, including displaying GIS products at meetings/events, developing a logo for use on GIS deliverables, and incorporating visual elements into outreach materials. For example, GIS staff members at Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) continuously make efforts to showcase the GIS program. During the development of its first Strategic Plan, PennDOT drafted a white paper documenting '10 Steps to Insure GIS Implementation,'9 one of which was to develop a business logo for the GIS office. The logo has helped to develop the identity of the GIS unit and significantly increase the visibility of PennDOT's GIS deliverables both within and outside of the Department.

Many interviewees believed that tracking the time and cost savings associated with using GIS could provide a powerful tool to promote the benefits of geospatial analysis. However, they acknowledged that conducting such a study is a big and complicated undertaking that is probably outside the capabilities (in terms of money and staff expertise) of their DOT.

Develop and Document Data Standards - DOTs require data and communication infrastructures that a range of stakeholders can share. For geospatial information and services to be accessible and useful to a wide range of users, some of the interviewed state DOTs suggested the utilization of an open, flexible, and vendor-neutral data framework, such as XML standards and those promoted by the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC).10

It is also important to consider organizational expectations and culture when negotiating construction and maintenance contracts and creating data-sharing policies. In one example, Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) reported that contract terms for construction and maintenance projects previously did not specify that data collected for these projects should be delivered to ConnDOT upon project completion. In cases when data was turned over to ConnDOT, there were no data standards that the contractor was required to use. ConnDOT now includes provisions for data sharing into its construction and maintenance contracts. Had standards for data sharing been documented, the DOT may have ultimately saved time and avoided the need to recollect and recompile similar data.

Many DOTs are also involved in efforts to develop statewide standards to ensure that geospatial data created by one agency is usable by many other state agencies. Such efforts are contributing to the establishment of shared base maps that utilize common database structures and attributes, potentially creating significant time and cost savings.

Provide Adequate Training to GIS End users - According to the interviewed state DOTs, having staff members throughout the Department who are knowledgeable about GIS is an important aspect of successfully implementing the technology. The quantity and quality of geospatial data becomes less relevant if staff members lack the skills to analytically apply and interpret the data. In addition, a trained user base allows GIS technical staff more time to focus on data and system maintenance and program expansion, limiting the time spent responding to users' requests for otherwise easily obtainable information.

In many cases, the knowledge and expertise required to effectively utilize geospatial technologies are not part of the traditional state DOT staff training and experience. Similarly, staff members are often not aware of the range of spatial data and applications that is available to them and thus do not take full advantage of the GIS resources on hand. In order to address this lack of experience and understanding, it is essential to provide significant training to staff on both the basic and more advanced aspects of GIS.

To address these issues, state DOTs have employed a variety of mechanisms to ensure that staff has a working knowledge of GIS, including:

  • Hands-on internal training, as well as off-site trainings and peer exchanges;
  • Establishment of GIS user groups for staff members to share experiences; and
  • Monthly GIS "tips and tricks" emails to users.

As an example, at Washington DOT (WSDOT), with 400-500 unique GIS users each month, every GIS user receives an ArcView platform with preformatted data, as well as custom tools and maps. Each user also receives full functionality and has complete access to all WSDOT data. The centralized Geographic Services Office supports users through a GIS helpdesk and provides training for all GIS users. WSDOT's standard two-day training program provides basic GIS skills, including information on what kinds of data are available and how to work with the data. An optional second course, which is outsourced, provides training on advanced GIS application work.

Focus on the DOT's Business Needs - Several state DOTs commented that the focus should not be on "What are our GIS needs?" but rather on "How can GIS support our business needs?" A robust collaboration between technical GIS teams and end users is critical to ensure that geospatial applications meet end users' business needs and fulfill their expectations. Several state DOTs recommended that GIS technical staff consistently elicit input from end users when developing or updating applications. Frequently, GIS applications often have far more capabilities than the average DOT staff member needs or is comfortable using. Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between exploring technological capabilities and creating user-friendly applications. Similarly, involving GIS staff members in project management processes will enable the GIS perspective to be more actively incorporated into business decisions.

A number of interviewed state DOTs also indicated that GIS should not be thought of as a stand-alone technology, but instead as one in an array of tools that can help staff members perform their job responsibilities. For example, GIS managers at Mississippi DOT (MDOT) constantly work to encourage others at MDOT to view GIS as simply another "tool in the toolbox," and not as an intimidating or overly substantial technology. GIS staff members continue to teach others in the Department that all MDOT data have a geospatial component and that GIS is just one tool that can facilitate viewing and analysis of information.

Establish Strong Working Relationships - A quarter of the interviewed state DOTs noted the importance of considering organizational culture and relationship networks when beginning or growing a GIS program. According to these state DOTs, establishing good working relationships with both internal staff and external counterparts enhances data and resource sharing within and among agencies. Furthermore, through cooperation groups can more effectively solve problems that are likely experienced by all, leading to a more efficient and effective utilization of GIS capabilities across a state.

Alabama DOT (ALDOT) is one example of a network of strong, cooperative relationships among GIS staff members and their counterparts. The ALDOT network allows for a degree of informality that has promoted the development of trust among staff and across division boundaries. ALDOT's GIS staff, in turn, has taken care, when feasible, to not 'develop maps too fast,' ensuring that new applications are intuitive for all users at every level of experience. This cautionary approach has helped to relieve any trepidation other staff may have had about GIS, improve working relationships, and generally advance widespread support of the Department's GIS work.

Develop a GIS Strategic Plan - The creation or expansion of a GIS program is a complex endeavor involving a number of factors regarding technological infrastructure and business needs. Eight state DOTs remarked that the creation of a GIS strategic plan can provide a helpful tool to effectively manage the process. A strategic plan can help establish a direction and long-term support for GIS activities, codify GIS program needs, provide focus for future program efforts, and clearly identify how GIS can contribute to meeting a DOT's business needs and mission. As an example, the Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) created three successive Strategic Plans (and anticipates creation of a fourth plan in the mid-2010s). In the absence of an enterprise system, the plans' articulation of long-term objectives and goals has generally helped to define, build, and advance the Department's GIS program.

Advancements in geospatial technologies have been an impetus for New York State DOT (NYSDOT) to revisit its original Strategic Implementation Plan dating from the early 1990s. NYSDOT is interested in establishing a modern implementation plan to reassess needs, prioritize GIS implementation efforts, and specifically address ways to promote the GIS program, both internally and at the state level. Other state agencies in New York have completed plans that have been effective in earning high-level support for activities aimed at advancing agencies' missions. NYSDOT commented that a modernized strategic plan would likely help emphasize the importance of an enterprise GIS to meeting seemingly disparate yet interrelated business needs within the Department.

Develop the GIS Program Incrementally - When developing a GIS program or initiating new facets of a program/application it can be useful to take small steps. Several state DOTs reported having found it helpful to conduct pilot projects to test the technology and demonstrate the utility of applications before implementation on larger scales.

Taking incremental steps when building a GIS program is also important to ensure that new applications, systems, or processes do not overwhelm or confuse users. New users who already have apprehension about using GIS will be less inclined to make use of geospatial technologies if applications are not initially accurate, user-friendly, and convenient. By undertaking a clearly defined, incremental approach, a precedent of high-quality GIS products can be established, which will greatly contribute to establishing department-wide trust in GIS.

Virginia DOT's (VDOT) GIS Integrator, the Department's enterprise spatial data warehouse, is an example of an effective application that was developed incrementally. VDOT added only eight data layers to the first iteration of the GIS Integrator in 2001 and has slowly added more layers over time. Now, the GIS Integrator serves as the framework for several other VDOT applications. The incremental enhancement of the GIS Integrator helped VDOT establish a quality GIS program and set a precedent for data maintenance, documentation, and response to user requests. As a result, department-wide trust in GIS has been developed and sustained.

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Interviewees were given the opportunity to offer suggestions for how FHWA might continue to support state DOTs in implementing their respective GIS programs. These suggestions fall into three broad categories: Funding, Data Standards, and Outreach and Advocacy. In cases where there was overlap among suggested measures, the recommendations were combined and are presented together.

In general, interviewees reported that FHWA's funding support has been a helpful and necessary contributor to the development of state DOTs' GIS programs. Most interviewees also expressed an appreciation that FHWA provides funding for GIS activities with an understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all design or implementation approach for geospatial applications. However, six state DOTs made suggestions regarding funding. Recommendations included:

  • Provide funding to meet federal requirements - State DOTs will be required to submit Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) data in GIS formats. However, some states do not yet have the GIS infrastructure to support these efforts. It was suggested that FHWA consider assigning funding specifically for helping states fulfill the HPMS submittal's geospatial requirements.
  • Provide additional funding for travel expenses A limited state travel budget often makes it difficult for more than one staff person to attend symposia and workshops that may provide important learning and networking opportunities. Another state DOT noted that its GIS activities would be significantly advanced if multiple staff members were able to attend annual conferences and/or formalized, face-to-face peer exchanges. A relatively small investment from FHWA to help augment travel costs to specific conferences could have large payoffs for enhancing state DOTs' GIS programs on a national scale.
  • Allocate a portion of State Planning and Research (SPR) funding to certain GIS costs - One state suggested that SPR funds be used to offset costs associated with tasks that change from year to year instead of offsetting flat costs such as GIS hardware/software maintenance fees. Currently, many state DOTs must annually justify and explain the need for GIS and its supporting elements (e.g., aerial imagery).
  • Consider feasibility of state government licensing fee - A majority of state DOTs likely use similar software (e.g., ESRI) and must pay an annual licensing fee. Since it is likely that many states use the same or similar software, FHWA could negotiate with relevant vendors to pay a set licensing fee. By allocating a portion of SPR funds to GIS software maintenance and/or aerial imagery acquisition (i.e., an "Imagery for Everyone" program), state DOTs could save a considerable amount of money. FHWA could negotiate lower fees if it represented the cooperative whole of state DOTs.
  • Provide funding support for High Accuracy Differential Global Positioning System costs - One state mentioned that High Accuracy Differential Global Positioning Service (HDGPS) is a valuable national infrastructure program that the USDOT should continue to fund. The HDGPS program is potentially valuable to some state DOTs because it supports improving safety operations within the trucking industry as well as precision machine control and other automated transportation systems. USDOT's suspension or cancellation of HDGPS may make it difficult for some state DOTs to operate or expand these programs.

As more data sharing occurs between levels of government, a standard schema for transportation layers among state DOTs, other state and local government agencies, and federal agencies is increasingly important. Six state DOTs suggested that FHWA could assist state DOTs by developing a central repository for documentation, schema, libraries, and resources to help assist state and local entities with sharing their transportation layers. At the state level, FHWA could advocate for a unified GIS data standard, while providing technical assistance regarding integration of differing datasets. Nationally, FHWA could promote increased communication among federal agencies so that (1) national data standards be established and distributed and (2) development of applications and data acquisition efforts are not redundant at the federal or state levels.

Additionally, two state DOTs commented that FHWA should emphasize the importance of technology and data standards to enable disparate systems across states to be compatible, especially if systems apply to the annual HPMS submittal. The FHWA requirement that all states digitally submit HPMS data beginning in 2010 does not require use of national standards. Therefore, systems may not be compatible across states. State DOT staff members were concerned that this requirement could represent a technology 'backtrack' for states with advanced GIS capabilities where regional (cross-state) GIS data already exists. For states that do not yet have the ability to meet the requirement and/or have the extensive digital infrastructure to grow their GIS programs, national standards for HPMS digital submittals may provide an immediate impetus for development.

Ten out of the 36 (~ 28 percent) interviewed state DOTs had suggestions regarding FHWA's outreach and advocacy efforts. Most of the recommendations focused on how FHWA might continue to expose state DOT leadership to the benefits and value of expanding Departments' GIS capabilities:

  • Capitalize on opportunities to demonstrate the benefits of GIS to state DOT executives - There are various occasions in which FHWA could provide demonstrations of notable GIS applications and/or practices to high-level state DOT decision-makers. FHWA's endorsement of GIS could help facilitate senior management's support for GIS initiatives.
  • Set expectations that transportation management systems include a spatial component - FHWA can help communicate to state DOT executives the benefits of growing GIS functionality from simple "mapping" to more complex problem solving and leveraging traditionally non-spatial data (e.g., expenditure data).
  • Advocate that state DOT's GIS efforts maintain focus on transportation issues - Some states' GIS user communities have approached the state DOTs to request that the DOTs lead GIS efforts statewide, including spending money on GIS data and applications that do not address the DOTs' business needs. This pressure from the GIS community can compel the state DOT to engage in these activities, sometimes diverting limited resources away from transportation-related GIS.
  • Continue providing forums for open discussion about GIS topics - Some state DOTs mentioned that other DOTs would likely benefit from a web-based forum that supports and encourages an open exchange of knowledge, information, experience, and ideas about geospatial technologies and GIS. Others indicated that FHWA should continue to fund and organize peer exchange events, especially among neighboring states that often share common transportation needs and/or physical geography. One state mentioned that state DOT staff members would likely be interested in participating in forums focused on discussing the various methods and standards for cataloguing geospatial data.
  • Continue support of GIS-T - FHWA should continue to support AASHTO's annual GIS-T Symposium, which provides an opportunity for GIS professionals and interested stakeholders to learn more about uses of GIS in transportation.

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APPENDIX A:  State DOT Staff Interviewed
A complete listing of state DOT points of contact that the project team interviewed.

APPENDIX B:  Pre-Interview Questionnaire Guide
Questions provided to state DOT interviewees prior to phone interviews in order to set the stage for the calls and the research effort.

APPENDIX C:  State DOT Case Studies
Two- to 5-page case study summaries of the business models for implementing geospatial technologies for each of the participating State DOTs.

APPENDIX A:  State DOT Staff Interviewed

Agency Contact(s) Email Phone
Alabama DOT Mike Rief 334-242-6692
Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Kerry Kirkpatrick 907-465-8957
Arizona DOT* Jami Rae Garrison 602-712-8958
Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department Robert Fuhler,
Greg Nation
California DOT (Caltrans) Oscar Jarquin 916-654-3853
Colorado DOT Marvin Koleis 303-757-9811
Connecticut DOT James Spencer 860-594-2014
Delaware DOT* Matthew Laick 302-760-2661
Florida DOT Larry Barfield, Buddy Cunill, Peter McGilvray, Jared Causseaux McGilvray: 850-414-5330
Georgia DOT* Teague Buchanan 404-463-2860
Hawaii DOT Goro Sulijoadikusumo 808-587-1839
Idaho Transportation Department Liza Fox, Glenda Fuller 208-332-7889
Iowa DOT Eric Abrams 515-239-1949
Indiana DOT Joel Bump 317-234-3106
Kansas DOT Brian Logan, Nancy Mattson, Mike Smith, Bill Vicory Mattson: 785-296-2575
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Will Holmes 502-564-8900
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Doug Albert, CJ Marchand, James Mitchell, David Ringuette 225-379-1881
Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) Mark Berger 617-973-7340
Maryland DOT Mike Sheffer 410-545-5537
Maine DOT Nate Kane,
Thomas Marcotte
Kane: 207-624-3297
Marcotte: 207-287-8723
Michigan DOT Laura Blastic,
Cory Johnson,
Joyce Newell
Blastic: 517-373-7910
Johnson: 517-335-2931
Newell: 517- 373-2237
Minnesota DOT Dan Ross   651-366-4077
Mississippi DOT Ray Barksdale 601-359-7206
Montana DT* Bill Cloud,
Marlin Sander
Cloud: 406-444-6114
Sander: 406-444-9294
North Carolina DOT* L.C. Smith 919-212-6001
North Dakota DOT Brian Bieber (701) 328-2649
Nebraska DOT Rose Braun 402-479-3696
New Hampshire DOT Glenn Davison 603-271-7145
New Jersey DOT Gary Zayas 609-530-2415
New Mexico DOT Glenn Condon 505-827-5229
Nevada DOT Eric Warmath 702-888-7265
New York State DOT Kevin Hunt 518-485-7152
Ohio DOT Dave Blackstone 614-466-2594
Oklahoma DOT* Jay Adams 405-521-2175
Oregon DOT Darlene Gowen,
Mike Stone
Gowen: 503-986-4245
Stone: 503-986-3636
Pennsylvania DOT Frank DeSendi 717-787-3738
South Dakota DOT Terry Erickson 605-773-3402
Tennessee DOT Kim McDonough 615-741-4037
Utah DOT Craig Hancock 801-965-4865
Virginia DOT Melanie Seigler 804-371-0851
Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) Jonathan Croft, Shawn Nailor 802-828-0180
Washington DOT Shawn Blaesing, George Spencer, Colleen Miller, Mike Palazzo
Blaesing: 360-709-5524
Spencer: 360-709-5513
*State DOTs interviewed during Phase I. Report available at:

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APPENDIX B:  Pre-Interview Questionnaire

These questions are intended to help collect background information on the implementation of your state's GIS/geospatial program, as well as to stage the context of the phone call. No lengthy responses are necessary. These and other topics will be discussed in more depth during the call. Please feel free to send any reports or other existing documents about your GIS program that could supplement the discussion.

1. Where is the GIS program/major activity organizationally located?
2. Who decides on policy for geospatial information in your organization?
3. How are your geospatial applications funded? Was their original development funded differently?
4. From where do you acquire your geospatial data (both the original data and any ongoing updates or additions)?
5. What are some of your notable geospatial applications, and what is their current status?

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Go to APPENDIX C:  State DOT Case Studies



1GIS are a collection of computer software, hardware, data, and personnel used to store, manipulate, analyze, and present geographically referenced information. Through GIS, geospatial and associated attribute information from different sources can be integrated and layered on top of one another to create a visual display of data for quick retrieval and analysis. (Back)

2Executive Scan Tour Report (Back)

3Business Models for Implementing Geospatial Technologies in Transportation Decision-making: (Back)

4Peer Exchange on Applications of GIS in the Right-of-Way Area, August 2007: and Peer Exchange on GIS for Planning and Environment Linkages. October 2007: (Back)

5AASHTO GIS for Transportation Symposium. State DOT GIS-T Contact Information (Back)

6For example, the GIS-T Symposium's annual survey asks some questions about state DOTs' GIS software and hardware usage, as well as current projects and organizational models. (Back)

7Six state DOTs were interviewed during Phase I, while eight others did not respond to requests for interviews for Phase II. (Back)

8Additionally, there do not appear to be any trends in GIS organization at the interviewed state DOTs that correspond to state population, land area, road mileage, number of MPOs, or number of state counties. (Back)

9"Top 10 Suggestions to Insure GIS Implementation" April 1995. PDF document available from PennDOT upon request. (Back)

10Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc: (Back)