The Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) was developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1978 as a way to assess the extent, condition, performance, use, and operating characteristics of the nation’s highways. It has undergone several updates in the last several decades. However, collecting the required data on pavement surfaces, assets, signs and markings, fences and utilities remains a challenge for state and municipal transportation departments. Even more difficult is the task of submitting the often-conflicting datasets to the federal government.

Ray Mandli, president of Mandli Communications, and Robert Dingess, president of Mercer Strategic Alliance Inc., recognized the challenges and stepped in to address them by creating the Geospatial Transportation Mapping Association in 2011. “We perceived a need to unify the datasets that were being provided to the state DOTs and cities and counties,” Mandli says. “There are good solutions all over the place, but in the end, we don’t service our industry well enough in terms of being able to give them a data stream that fills that void.”

Mandli, whose firm works closely with clients in the transportation industry to design, manage and maintain road and rail networks, believes a significant amount of opportunity can be found by helping clients understand the value of comprehensive, integrated datasets—the kind of data that can be collected with mobile LiDAR systems. To prove it, he’s sharing details on a project his firm is managing for the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), which will create a single database for displaying, querying and analyzing Utah’s transportation assets.

“The nice thing about how we’re building the data center of this technology is that it’s a data stream,” he says. “If you’ve only got so much money, you can pull certain parts out, but we’re going to still collect it in its entirety. If you get more money later on, we’ll put manpower and resources into it to extract the other datasets. The data is living.”

Mandli says the two-year project, which was awarded in January 2012, will actually be completed by the end of this year because of the technologies and approaches that are being used. “That should give us a full network-wide sample to use that will be very powerful for GTMA,” he says. “It will help show the efficiency that’s possible if you collect your data stream simultaneously. In the past, the pavement, assets, signs and fencing were all separate. Now we’re talking about collecting all that data in one pass and disseminating all the files that are needed to analyze and maintain that infrastructure.”

He hopes the Utah project will be a model for other state DOTs. The potential, he says, is enormous. In the near term, he believes several more states will soon be issuing RFPs similar to the one in Utah. Farther down the road, he sees autonomous vehicles playing a major role in mobile network data collection. Through GTMA, Mandli hopes to bring together other service providers with the decision-makers from state transportation departments and other government agencies to address common challenges and leverage technology to drive progress.

“Let’s make the data more robust and create more opportunity,” he says. “That’s where we’re going with this.”

Note: Additional details on GTMA and the data collection project in Utah will be presented at SPAR International 2012  at the Woodlands Marriott, Woodlands, Texas, April 15-18.