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Summary of the Federal Highway Administration’s Quarterly Webcast: Applications of Geospatial Technologies in Transportation

Webcast 36: MBTA LandTracker Application
April 24, 2018


Background

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has promoted Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) as a means to more effectively manage and improve transportation systems. One of the ways that FHWA has done this is through its GIS in Transportation program,1 which identifies timely and critical GIS issues and topics in transportation and connects transportation agencies with available resources and best practices. The webinar summarized here is part of a quarterly series, which is organized through the GIS in Transportation program.

Rachel Goldsmith (Rachel.Goldsmith@greyco.com) is a Boston-based urban planning consultant working in the areas of real estate asset management and GIS. Specifically, she partners with public landowners to help them develop comprehensive inventories of their real estate holdings and to deliver this information to stakeholders in an accessible way. This work supports the agencies on multiple levels, including: value generation and capture; tenant management; identifying surplus land for disposition; site selection for transit-oriented and other development projects; responding to security and maintenance concerns; and answering public and intra-agency inquiries.

A recording of the webcast can be viewed here.

Introduction

The LandTracker application developed by Ms. Goldsmith is a unique private-public partnership with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA). The application tracks property ownership in units known as “parcels.” Each parcel has all relevant documents, such as deeds and site plans, scanned and uploaded within the application. This provides an inventory of all relevant information and documents for a particular parcel. The parcel’s metadata (description, notes, and property ownership conditions) is also tracked in each file. The application interfaces with the MBTA’s accounting database to display leases, licenses, and other assets to its 600+ users. The application has recently been expanded to include the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) highway database as well.

Current Uses of the LandTracker Application

In 1996, the MBTA’s Real Estate Department was privatized and outsourced, with a computerized inventory component of the contract. The MBTA sought awareness of their real estate property across the State. Ms. Goldsmith and her team created the LandTracker GIS tool which is used to:

  • Research disposition, leasing and licensing, and indemnification information;
  • Select sites for State facilities (relocations, consolidations);
  • Respond to internal property ownership inquiries, as well as from other public agencies and municipalities; and
  • Manage safety and maintenance concerns.

Application Demonstration

The demonstration of the LandTracker application began by showing how the parcels of data can be used to look at the real-time activity of a particular MBTA station, including the unique chain of titles for those parcels, and view property agreements and revenue-generating assets.

The application is used widely throughout the MBTA and MassDOT, and can be used across a variety of job functions. This can range from attorneys using the application to determine which legal documents associated with a parcel are most relevant, to police using it for tracking vehicles to be towed. The application utilizes a color-coded base map system to differentiate between multiple types of properties. Pink parcels represent MBTA-owned land; red parcels represent State easements and anything short of MBTA ownership (such as mortgage-interest or drainage easements); and blue parcels are MassDOT-owned parcels that the MBTA manages.

The Commuter Rail Line between Worcester, MA and Boston, MA was used as an example to demonstrate the comprehensive inventory of property types that are mapped within the application. This included parking lots, drainage easements, and parcel boundaries. Title plans and railroad valuation plans are also linked to the corresponding parcels of land.

Asset management is the newest feature in the LandTracker application. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), billboards, kiosks, shelters, wires, and vending machines are all examples of assets that are tracked in the application. Each category can be expanded to list each asset, which can then be viewed on the map. This feature is used to comply with regulations for each type of asset. In addition to searching for assets by types or agency ownership, the application has an “asset grabber” functionality that allows users to select an area on the map to “grab” all the assets within the selected area. These assets are then populated in a list below the map.

The side-bar of the application can also be used as a document management system and search bar. An “Agreement Tracker” is part of this sidebar, which lists contracts, deeds and other agreements. Contacts for these assets and agreements are also inventoried within the application, thus facilitating communications with relevant contacts.

Data layers can also be added into the Landtracker application. For instance, a spatial analysis can be performed between an external data layer as compared to the MBTA-owned property to see which property abuts the MBTA’s property.

Future Direction of the Application

The LandTracker team has plans to further develop the application by adding new data layers, displaying a history of the MBTA’s property ownership, incorporating Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and 3D graphics, and integrating environmental data functions.

Questions & Answers

Following Ms. Goldsmith’s presentation there was a question and answer session, which is summarized below:

Is there any way to track when leases expire in the application (such as leased Park and Ride)?
The application is able to search for specific types of leases. The expiration data field within the application is linked with a separate commercial accounting system (MRI Software), which populates the expiration date.

Does the application pull assets on-demand, or are these separate GIS layers?
Assets are a separate GIS layer. The data that the LandTracker team maintains is the parcel data and the asset data. The base-mapping is pulled from Esri, while the assessor parcels and town boundaries are sourced from a State-owned data clearing house. The asset management aspect of the application and the red and pink parcel data are the real value of the application. The team has spent the most resources on these features. The parcel data has been worked on for a long time. The asset data is a relatively new addition and can be considered in a “beta” version.

What document management system is being used?
It is custom software. Commercial products were tried beforehand, but the customization cost much more than simply designing the software from scratch. This was outsourced to a web development agency, who helped build the database and the web interface. Over the years, the team has added different ways of getting to the data with a focus on the visual interface.

As property boundaries are dynamic throughout time, does the application track the complete history of a parcel as it changes in shape and attribution?
The LandTracker team has finally gotten the capability to perform that functionality within the past few years. The team has a goal to integrate another data layer that shows a history of sold parcels and a list of transactions. The list of transactions since 1964 is massive and each rail-line plan can have hundreds of documents with dozens of sub-documentations each. The LandTracker team gets frequent questions about who is responsible for maintaining certain stations and/or facilities. The application has those documentations tracked as well as what is required of the current owners (parking spaces, well-lit waiting areas, and safety features).

How many full-time employees are maintaining the database?
Ms. Goldsmith is the only employee maintaining the database on the MBTA side of things. The MBTA also does a good deal of data maintenance internally. There is a steady stream of documents coming from the MBTA to Ms. Goldsmith, who is the only one with editing permissions.

Are the MassDOT polygons linked to the base-map?
Eventually, the MassDOT polygons will link to a geo-referenced file with a PDF document attached to it. Determining the size of the polygons was a project within MassDOT.

Conclusion

The LandTracker application is a powerful tool for understanding and tracking the large number of properties, assets, and associated documentation for both public and private agencies. Applications such as the LandTracker can empower users to streamline workflows and find relevant data quickly, resulting in saved resources. Ms. Goldsmith said that the application is always evolving, and new functionalities are planned to continue to support the asset management features and create value for the agencies using it.


1 See the FHWA GIS in Transportation website: https://gis.fhwa.dot.gov/.

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