Technology is making it possible for the transportation industry to build and maintain safer and more efficient roads; however, changes are happening so fast that existing data collection and processing vendors are struggling to keep up with the latest innovations. Changing client requirements and government policy makers who sometimes don’t have all of the information they need to make the best planning and funding decisions can complicate matters.

To help alleviate these issues, an organization called the Geospatial Transportation Mapping Association (GTMA) was formed earlier this year; its mission is to create better transportation infrastructure through the use of mapping technologies.

“Within the transportation community, no one was educating (the U.S.) Congress about new techniques to collect asset data and improve asset management and roadway safety.  These new technologies provide a more transparent condition and performance picture for policymakers,” said Rob Dingess, GTMA president and CEO. “Our focus is on data that helps the system itself tell its own story and provide insight to transportation professionals on how to improve safety and efficiency. We facilitate the exchange of information between the Congress, private sector, universities and government agencies so that everyone knows what the possibilities are. In addition, GTMA works on best practices to incorporate data into strategic highway safety plans and sponsors webinars describing new ways to maximize the value of the data.”

Members of GTMA include data collection software and collection device companies engaged in mobile mapping, transportation mapping operations, transportation subsurface operations or transportation infrastructure mapping. Universities and government agencies are also important members, as they facilitate the dissemination of research and address changing industry needs.

There are less than 20 North American companies active in highway data collection, so resources have become stretched thin as demand for pavement assessment, sign retroreflectivity, friction, mobile LiDAR and 3D mapping data  increases. Part of GTMA’s charter is to assist members in understanding all of the anticipated Federal Highway Administration’s condition and performance requirements.

“GTMA is necessary for the industry because it provides a forum for discussions about how to make the industry viable,” said Ray Mandli, president of Mandli Communications and GTMA chairman. “We need to work together to solve some of the technical hurdles that are being created by the volume of data. Our processing capabilities are not keeping up with our data collection capabilities.”

GTMA had its first conference in February in Washington, D.C. “We were going to wait until 2014, but we felt it was important to be part of the discussions about MAP-21 (the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act), which could provide $105 billion of funding for surface transportation projects. MAP-21 will be a major influence over the next few years because specific transportation data will have to be reported to Congress,” Mandli said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) helped make the initial meeting productive. Also, the opportunity to share the latest developments in mapping with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) was meaningful, Mandli said. AASHTO creates baseline rules and specifications for how new technology and products are used on U.S. roadways.

GTMA intends to weigh in on some complex issues, such as driverless vehicles. One of its technical committees is focusing on promoting integrated data capture of interstate roadways to create an open source basemap that will facilitate the development of autonomous vehicles. Another committee is working on best practices for data collection.

The certification process for data collection vehicles to do work in certain states is also on the agenda. In addition, GTMA stays abreast of new government-mandated performance standards, regulations and specifications  and provides comments from the industry’s perspective. “Everything related to data capture for highways, rail, airports and waterways is of interest to GTMA,” said Dingess.

GTMA’s goal is to maximize the value in the data DOTs have collected to help improve processes and increase safety.  “By encouraging  integrated network data collection, we can improve asset management, safety analysis and maintenance schedules and  incorporate all kinds of other data, such as environmental or archaeological layers,” Dingess said. “The longer we delay, the more taxpayer money is wasted. We want to help all state DOTs have more confidence in their programs and spend money effectively.”