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    Emergence of GIS from a Need to Address Federal Requirements



Arizona's Department of Transportation (ADOT) first began using systems that would eventually evolve into Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the early 1970s. Early on, ADOT used a graphical mainframe application as part of its efforts to comply with the National Highway Safety Act of 1966,3 which established the first requirements for statewide traffic records systems. The Act subsequently detailed terms for the recording and reporting of accidents on and off the State Highway System. In response, ADOT used proprietary software to develop the Accident Location Information Surveillance System (ALISS), which contained crash data and associated spatial information.

In 1993 and 1994, a conversion process was initiated to make the spatial data housed in ALISS part of a "modern" GIS. Since then, GIS has gained strength throughout ADOT for its usefulness as a technology tool in planning, analyzing, modeling, and managing both spatial and tabular information. Now, the data originally part of ALISS comprise a base-layer coverage of Arizona's roads and streets, known as the Arizona Transportation Information System (ATIS), or ATIS Roads. This application, which is continually being developed and improved, is discussed in detail below.

Business Model for Geospatial Technology Implementation

Organizational Structure and Funding
During the early stages of GIS development at ADOT, detailed crash data housed in ALISS were collected and maintained in the Department's Traffic Records Group. As ADOT began to convert the ALISS data into a more modern GIS, a team comprising members from its Transportation Planning Division, Information Technology Section, and Photogrammetry/Survey Section was formed to better manage the spatial data. Using ESRI's ArcInfo software, ADOT worked to migrate ALISS's spatial data into a full GIS database as the centerline data for the State Highway System. When this activity was completed, data maintenance was assigned to the Transportation Planning Division.

A GIS-Transportation (GIS-T) Section, which is organizationally located within the Data Bureau of the Transportation Planning Division (Figure 1), coordinates the Department's GIS activities, including maintenance of the ATIS Roads GIS database.

Organizational chart for the Arizona Department of Transportation - adapted from
Figure 1: Organizational chart for the Arizona Department of Transportation
(adapted from ADOT).
Figure 2: Organization chart For ADOT's Data Bureau
Figure 2: Organization chart For ADOT's Data Bureau.

Funding comes primarily from FHWA's State Planning and Research (SPR) program. Each year, the manager of the Data Bureau develops a budget, which is reviewed and approved by the director of the Transportation Planning Division and the FHWA Division Office. In the future, there may be opportunities for certain projects or applications to be funded by other sources.

The GIS-T Section's annual budget for project work and GIS maintenance is approximately $500,000. However, in some years the budget is due more to significant one-time project costs.

ADOT's GIS-T section employs seven full-time staff, one of whom is the manager. In the past, staff turnover has been high, with many employees leaving for higher-paying jobs with local agencies or the private sector. Currently, however, the section has reached nearly full staffing levels. While state funding helps to support these labor costs, there is no DOT-wide or statewide GIS software purchase program. This means that groups using geospatial technologies within each Arizona agency must draw from their respective budgets to buy their own software from vendors as needed.

The use of SPR funds requires quarterly reports to FHWA, which include status, accomplishments, and setbacks for all ongoing projects. This information is summarized on an annual basis and presented along with the budget request. Additional oversight is provided by the state's Government Information Technology Agency (GITA), which reviews any project involving information technology resources with a budget of more than $25,000.

Roles and Responsibilities
ADOT's GIS-T Section collects, maintains, and distributes geospatial data. Some data, such as those about bridges and incidents, are supplied to the GIS-T Section from other groups within ADOT. On occasion, consultants have been used for data creation, but maintenance responsibilities have always been given to ADOT.

Data are made available freely for noncommercial use, although some data may require the user to have ESRI software. For all data sharing, ADOT requires that requestors, including other government agencies at the state or local level, complete data release forms. Certain data, such as crash data, cannot be made available unless it is first cleaned of sensitive personal information. Since this process can be time-consuming, current data are not always available for immediate distribution. ADOT's Risk Management Office evaluates and handles requests for use by commercial entities or for any type of legal use.

Programs and Services
To distribute geospatial data, ADOT's primary application is the Arizona Transportation Information System (ATIS), otherwise known as ATIS Roads. The ATIS Roads database contains information on centerlines and mile markers for the entire Arizona State Highway System, including ramps and frontage roads, with annual maintenance performed in-house using GPS. Data are also kept on local road centerlines, and ADOT receives this information directly from local municipalities as available. ADOT releases quarterly updates of its centerline data, which have been used to build a linear referencing system.

ADOT also provides the following notable services:

Limitations in acquiring spatial road data from some local agencies have posed a significant challenge. These agencies' ability to produce and package spatial data is limited by their small size and limited budget or technical capabilities. Much of Arizona is rural, and many smaller cities and counties do not have dedicated full-time or part-time GIS staffs. Although local agencies may be able to afford the expense of purchasing GIS software, often they cannot afford to hire the staff needed to maintain a GIS infrastructure. Additionally, a significant portion of Arizona is tribal land. Each tribe managing this land is unique, and establishing spatial data-sharing arrangements with the tribes often requires a complex, variable process. Some Native American nations are concerned that the implications of sharing road data with Arizona DOT might include an increase in non-local traffic, as not all tribal roads are in a condition to receive higher traffic volumes.

One possible way of helping local agencies in their role as data providers is to use funding that the agencies have received from the state's E911 program to build local road databases. It is hoped that any data created as part of this program could be shared with ADOT. Agreements for sharing the data, and standards for data quality and formatting, are still being discussed; ADOT is unable to impose standards for data that it receives, but the Department can issue guidelines and promote their benefits.

Arizona's GIS Community
Arizona's state government has a very cooperative GIS community. One forum for this coordination is the Arizona Geographic Information Council (AGIC).7 AGIC comprises governor-appointed executive members as well as other representatives from state agencies, large universities, federal groups such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and tribal governments. AGIC and the State Cartographer's Office8 have worked together to set up a clearinghouse to store and redistribute GIS data. ADOT plays a prominent role in AGIC, having developed expertise through working with spatial data for many years. The governor-appointed ADOT representative to the AGIC executive board served as vice president in 2001–2002 and as president in 2002–2003. ADOT has assisted AGIC in the acquisition of updated DOQQ imagery for the state and actively serves on several committees, including planning for the annual AGIC conference, the Homeland Security Committee, and a Transportation Working Group.

AGIC is funded by contributions from all of the participating agencies, which pay varying amounts on the basis of their size and funding levels. Its projects benefit the entire state GIS community. For instance, AGIC coordinated with the U.S. Geological Survey to update the digital imagery for Arizona.

A GIS Steering Committee is also being convened within ADOT, with the first meeting scheduled for February 2007. ADOT anticipates that policy decisions for ADOT GIS will go through this committee as an advisory board to the GIS-T Section Team.


  1. National Highway Safety Act: (back)
  2. ADOT's Internet Map Server: No longer available. (back)
  3. ADOT Map Book: (back)
  4. ADOT's 511: (back)
  5. AGIC website: (back)
  6. State Cartographer Office website: (back)

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