Political Surveyor: Mobile Mapping and the MAP-21 Act

When Congress passed and President Obama signed the MAP-21 Act in July of 2012, mobile mapping may have been given a big green light. On July 6, President Obama signed into law H.R. 4348 that became Public Law 112-141.  The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century act included provisions reauthorizing the nation’s highway program for two fiscal years, providing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in demand for geospatial data, activities, and requirements.

The new law includes several provisions that could particularly and dramatically increase the demand for data acquired with mobile mapping systems.

Highway Basemap

Section 1112 strengthens and renews the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). It provides for a “highway basemap,” meaning a representation of all public roads that can be used to geolocate attribute data on a roadway. A wide variety of geographic-related data on manmade or natural phenomena on or surrounding the roadway networks would be captured.  Sections 53001 & 53003 authorize the use of innovative technologies for intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Deployment of ITS technologies will improve the performance of the national highway system in such areas as traffic operations, emergency response, incident management, surface transportation network management, freight management, traffic flow information, and congestion management. Mapping, surveying, and geospatial data provide a base data for ITS deployment and use.

“The MAP-21 Act is essential for the nation’s transportation infrastructure and within this the geospatial community will benefit,” said Eric Andelin, manager of geospatial business development for SAM, Inc., in Dallas, Texas.  As an example, Andelin notes the California Department of Transportation has 221 projects approved with HSIP funding, totaling approximately $143 million.  “Of these 221 projects, roughly 80% have a geospatial component. This could be in aerial mapping for realignment, mobile mapping for existing assets, quantity analysis, or existing condition documentation.”

Bridge and Tunnel Inventory

The bill also calls for a national bridge and tunnel inventory.  Section 1111 requires a catalogue of bridge assets that are on public roads; that are on and off federal-aid highways; and that are tribally or federally owned over waterways, “other topographical barriers,” and railroads. It also requires a catalogue of tunnels that are on public roads; that are on and off federal-aid highways; and that are tribally or federally owned.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that more than 26% of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.  The inventory will help identify and allocate resources for the $17 billion annual investment needed to substantially improve current bridge conditions.

Andelin said, “Geospatial activities support these projects, and with new ground-based mobile lidar systems or low-altitude, helicopter-based lidar systems our profession can provide a level of value not seen before. For example, a traditional survey for median improvements can now be done with minimal ‘boots on the ground’ effort through the use of a mobile mapping system, enhancing safety while increasing efficiency. While data is being collected for a median improvement project, assets are being captured as well. These can later be mined from the original collection without the cost of an additional mobilization.  ‘Map it once, use it many times’ truly applies here, bringing more value to the project stakeholders.”

State Transportation Contracts

The new law also provided clarification of two recurring problems encountered by private firms interested in state transportation agency contracts. Section 1103 clarifies that existing law, providing for state DoT use of the qualifications based selection (QBS) on all architecture, engineering, surveying, and mapping projects financed by federal highway funds.  The Federal Highway Administration had previously held a narrow interpretation that the law applied only to construction-related projects. Section 1103 closes that loophole, requiring QBS on all highway projects requiring architecture, engineering, mapping, and surveying services, whether construction-related or not, such as mobile mapping for safety or asset inventories, digital orthophotos for regional planning, or lidar data for elevation and stormwater run-off.

Section 1517 has a requirement that state DoTs shall use the private sector to the maximum possible extent for surveying and mapping. This section prohibits the use of federal dollars by state DoTs for purchasing and/or operating aircraft, cameras and sensors, mobile mapping systems, and other related mapping and surveying equipment, as well as maintaining an in-house capability when a commercial service is otherwise available.

This language has taken decades to achieve and builds on previously enacted law in the original 1956 Highway Act and the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995. It is likely to lead to states disposing of their in-house mapping and surveying assets, focusing government personnel on inherently governmental activities, and increasing the use of contracts for these activities from private sector mapping and surveying firms.

“MAP-21 is significant,” said Kurt Allen, PLS, of Photo Science, Inc., in Bowie, Maryland (also chairman of the MAPPS legislative affairs committee).  “The bill includes numerous provisions MAPPS has advocated for several years.  This law will not only benefit private geospatial firms, but our community at large and the American public.  While the transportation provisions are important to mobile mapping, the bill also includes FEMA provisions that are critical for lidar and other elevation data, RESTORE Act language that is huge for coastal GIS, and Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund sections to benefit hydrographic surveying.”

NSPS chairman of government affairs committee John Matonich, PS, of Rowe Professional Services Company in Flint, Michigan, called MAP-21 “one of the most important pieces of surveying and mapping legislation enacted in many years.” 

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