Webinar 5
Washington State Department of Transportation’s
Winter Operations AVL Geospatial Application

December 14, 2009

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

These notes provide a summary of the PowerPoint presentation discussed during the webinar and detail the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation. The presentation is available upon request from the webinar speakers, Tom Clay (Clayt@wsdot.wa.gov) and Alan Smith (SmithA@wsdot.wa.gov).


Tom Clay
IT Manager
Maintenance and Operations
Washington State DOT

Alan Smith
GIS Architect/Technology Specialist
Strategic Planning GIS
Washington State DOT


Approximately 40 participants attended the webinar.

Introduction to Presentation

Mark Sarmiento of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Interstate and Border Planning thanked participants for joining the webinar. This webinar was the fifth in a quarterly series of webinars that have been sponsored by the FHWA Office of Interstate and Border Planning. The series deals with the application of geospatial information systems (GIS) and other geospatial technologies to transportation. This webinar focused on the deployment of the Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) Winter Operations geospatial AVL application.


Purpose and Background

The Winter Operations System includes a browser-based mapping application that allows WSDOT to monitor the activities of winter operations trucks, winter storm conditions, road conditions, material application, and analyze recent historic activities. The system combines truck-mounted data collection, wireless transmission, data storage, tabular reports, and server-based GIS with a web-based mapping user interface.

WSDOT developed a pilot version of the application during the 2007-2008 winter season. The pilot version included approximately 28 trucks in the Tacoma and Pasco areas as well as additional trucks from other parts of Washington that provided data from every region of the state. The system was so successful that it was expanded to 80 trucks for the 2008-2009 winter season and to 145 trucks for the 2009-2010 winter season. WSDOT envisions a fleet of 500 trucks reporting to the system in the future.

System Design and Data

To obtain data for the Winter Operations application, WSDOT equipped each truck with two electronic units in the cab. The first unit allows the truck's driver to manually enter information about prevailing weather and road conditions. The second unit allows the driver to operate the truck's material spreading functions. Several sensors on the truck automatically collect a wide range of information regarding the truck's activities and environmental conditions.

All data transfers to WSDOT's vendors are performed automatically with no input needed from the driver. Even in areas with poor or no cellular service, each truck's onboard data collection system can store data for up to thirty days until a wireless connection is established and data can be transmitted. In areas where trucks might not encounter a cellular signal, fixed wireless "hotspots" are installed in frequently visited locations (such as maintenance yards) and configured so that data uploads occur whenever trucks are within range. Although the information cannot be collected in real time in this manner, it remains completely automatic and only costs about $50 per year per truck.

Once information is uploaded to the vendors, WSDOT polls the vendor sites and pulls the data into a database. An ArcGIS server accesses each event record and adds state route, mile post, and a state route line segment identifier. Data transference and processing takes only a few minutes, allowing for near real-time display of data.


The total cost to equip each truck for use in the Winter Operations application is approximately $8,000. The material control system represents about two-thirds of the total cost. The data acquisition equipment is a smaller portion of the total cost and is estimated at $2,500. In addition, the original backend system cost about $180,000 and was developed almost entirely in-house by WSDOT.

User Interface

During the webinar, WSDOT provided a live demonstration of the Winter Operations application's capabilities. The application provides both live and historical information about specific trucks, roads, weather conditions, and materials. In live mode, users have the ability to search for trucks based on identification number or view active trucks, weather conditions, road conditions, and material coating on a particular road. Users can also choose between orthoimagery, street maps, or a hybrid of the two for the display's base map. The map also includes traffic cameras, maintenance facilities and material stockpiles.

The application's capabilities allow for answers to questions such as:

  • How much chemical/sand has been applied in the last 24 hours on a given stretch of road?
  • What resources are deployed for a given maintenance area or are available to resolve a winter event?
  • What were the road conditions over a given time period?
  • Where is additional training needed and when do system changes need to be made?
  • For use in contract negotiations, which and how much anti-icer/de-icer product was used?
  • What was the effectiveness of different anti-icer/de-icer products under differing conditions?
  • For defenses for liability claims, what were the conditions surrounding an event?

The application can also generate detailed reports based on a number of factors, including timeframe, truck number, road number, region, or material. Once generated, these reports can be downloaded in a number of formats, including Excel and PDF files.

Future of Automatic Data Collection

After a successful review in the spring of 2009, WSDOT equipped an additional 60 trucks for use during the 2009-2010 winter season, for a total of about 145 trucks. In the future, WSDOT would like to expand the system to account for specific drivers and locate stocks of particular materials, traffic incidents, construction projects, weather radar, as well as include county and city data to provide a more comprehensive picture of the state. In addition, WSDOT plans to expand automatic data collection initiatives to other activities, beginning with herbicide application and paint striping during the spring of 2010.

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Question and Answer Session

Did WSDOT perform any quality control on the information collected from the truck?

Yes, on several levels. Information is verified spatially by matching each truck event to a state route line segment, filtering out point events that exceed parameters. Additionally, WSDOT receives inquiries from the field regarding data accuracy, which prompts investigations into the system's accuracy. When questions arise about the data, accuracy can be verified using mile markers. In addition, individual drivers are a great resource for verifying data, since they know their activities and can verify the system information after each shift.

What software did WSDOT use to build the application?

The data are stored in a Microsoft SQL server. ArcGIS Server is used for geoprocessing and for map service publication. The client application was built with ESRI's JavaScript API. The system is spread over three servers, including the data and map servers. The system was built with reusable cartographic map services and geoprocessing services in order to maximize adaptability and general usefulness.

What was WSDOT's experience in training maintenance staff to use this system?

The backing system is extremely intuitive and easy to use. In most cases, WSDOT could introduce users to the interface over the phone in about fifteen minutes. Training drivers to operate the material controllers in the trucks was more difficult and time-consuming.

Does WSDOT have other layers in the system, such as no-treatment areas near drinking water sources?

Not currently. There are no maps in the trucks, as the drivers already have a full workload without having to deal with a mapping interface. However, layers representing sensitive habitats, sensitive wetlands, or stream crossings would be easy to add in ArcView to see where material was used in conjunction with no-treatment areas. WSDOT intends to use the data generated by this system for additional analysis. WSDOT has hundreds of GIS data layers that could be used for spatial analysis but only a few months of data from this system. As WSDOT collects more data, it will be able to perform more useful analysis.

Was this application developed in-house?

Yes, mostly. WSDOT received a lot of help from the local ESRI office to develop the initial version, which was built on the web ADF. WSDOT is short on staff and some aspects of the system were beyond its reach. The current version written in the JavaScript API was developed entirely by WSDOT. All of the cartography was created internally and both the web mapping site and database are managed by WSDOT. The data vendors deal in point events and cannot associate information to line segments or to state mile and route measures. Every aspect of the data after they are provided to WSDOT is managed in-house.

Has WSDOT conducted or will be conducting a return on investment (ROI) study?

Not a formal ROI. From the outset, WSDOT's director was convinced that the ROI made this project a worthwhile pursuit. WSDOT estimates that the initial investments will be recovered in only two years. Furthermore, although the material controllers represent the majority of the per-truck cost of this system, the reduction in wasted material that this system provides easily covers the cost of each unit. Finally, this system is a valuable asset to the state in dealing with tort liability cases, which require detailed information about truck activities. A single liability case could easily pay for the system.

What is the timeline to carry over this application to other services?

One region in Washington wants to begin testing this application with herbicides this spring. This is certainly an achievable goal but will require the help of agency and vendor staff to coordinate the details. The basic structure is in place to carry this application over to other services but there are difficulties involved with measuring and displaying other materials and spreading rates.

What happens if there is an equipment failure in a truck?

Failures to this point have been minor and limited to the material controller. In one instance, a material controller failed after one week of operation and was replaced by the vendor within a few days. On the data end, there have been no failures. The system is designed so that no data are lost if the connection between the truck and vendor fails. As long as the information collector in the truck has power, data can be stored in the truck for up to thirty days until a connection can be reestablished. However, it is a fairly complicated system with many potential points for failure. WSDOT has had to post process data in order to correct for service failures.

Has WSDOT considered linking this application to video logging imagery for historical views of the highway?

WSDOT has received this request and it is certainly possible, as WSDOT already has map services hooked into a video log.

Has WSDOT interfaced this application with any Raven controllers?

WSDOT has tried to connect a few but has not fully implemented a system connected to Raven controllers. However, in order to implement a trial of one or two herbicide trucks this spring, Raven controllers must be interfaced.

Do any local jurisdictions have similar systems? If so, are they interested in coordination with WSDOT's activities?

Yes, some counties are working with particular vendors, which could be compatible with WSDOT's system. Yakima County, for instance, uses one of the same vendors and supplies information to display its trucks in the WSDOT application. There is a potential to develop a multi-jurisdictional system that would allow the display of many resources, or just the resources in a particular area. This could provide a statewide situational view.

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Closing Information

To conclude the webinar, Mr. Sarmiento presented some other information and resources related to applications of GIS in transportation:

  • FHWA has developed a new quarterly GIS in Transportation newsletter to share information about significant geospatial transportation news, events, and applications. Newsletters are available at http://www.gis.fhwa.dot.gov/newsletters.aspx.
  • FHWA's GIS in Transportation website highlights innovative uses of GIS for transportation and offers related information, opportunities, and resources for sharing uses and applications of GIS. The website is available at https://www.gis.fhwa.dot.gov.

The next webinar in the FHWA-sponsored GIS in Transportation webinar series will occur in approximately three months. Details for the future event and other upcoming webinars will be publicized on the GIS-T yahoo group distribution list, in emails to state DOT GIS managers, and on FHWA's GIS in Transportation website.

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