GIS brings street conditions to the masses in El Paso

April 2012 » Columns » GIS SOLUTIONS
Jeffrey Yoders
The PCI is an online, interactive map that allows users to type in an address and see the condition of the pavement on that street and an estimate of what resurfacing that street would cost.

The city of El Paso, Texas, Department of Transportation (EPDoT) is responsible for planning and managing improvements to the community’s multi-modal transportation system and for maintaining all city streets. Using GIS mapping, the department is able to detect trends related to service requests, work orders, equipment management, road pavement conditions, graffiti removal sites, and asset inventory. The assets, work histories, costs, and service requests are tracked in the department’s maintenance management software Cityworks. The software was developed by Azteca Systems, an Esri Business Partner.

GIS maps are used in nearly every aspect of the department’s operations and are relied on for planning, scheduling, and executing maintenance, but the GIS wizards in El Paso also are delivering services directly to the citizens with tools such as the El Paso Pavement Condition Index (PCI). The PCI is an online, interactive map (http://gis.elpasotexas.gov/pci/index.html) that allows citizens, city workers, or anyone else to type in an address and see the condition of the pavement on that street, how much money would need to be spent to get equipment to that street, and an estimate of what resurfacing that street would cost the city today. The tool was created in part by TransMap, an Esri Business Partner, which collected all of the city’s pavement data into an ArcGIS Online database.

The tool has taken road management full circle from tactical work management to mature pavement information that can easily be accessed online by anyone.

“Road resurfacing is usually limited by the available budget; that’s something that can be difficult to explain to people [at a public meeting] wondering when their street will be repaved,” said Daniel Kitka, operations supervisor at EPDoT. “You’ll never have enough budget to do everything you want to do. This tool lets people know we’re doing the best we can with what we have. Citizens don’t want to hear, ‘We don’t know when we’ll get to your street,’ but they will understand if we can show that we have X amount of dollars and this is the condition on this road and why we’re spending it there right now.”

El Paso is the nation’s largest border city and, as such, has boasted unusually rapid growth in population, labor force, and jobs since the 1970s. According to the 2010 census, El Paso County’s metropolitan population increased nearly 18 percent in the last decade to 800,647. Making the most of scant resources is important for all city and county departments. The influx of immigrants is largely credited with or blamed for El Paso’s steady growth, depending on who is doing the spinning, but there are many other factors that squeeze its municipal budgets.

While El Paso has always been in the top 30 U.S. cities in terms of population — it is 19th today — El Paso also has a large military presence. The U.S. Army’s base at Fort Bliss contains the largest center for educating and training Air Defense Artillery soldiers and units in the nation. There are several military hospitals and other installations on federal land in the area. The city and county get no extra tax income from military housing at any of these installations so there isn’t as much tax benefit from new residents as one would think. The Army has budgeted approximately $5 billion to invest in construction and renovation of Fort Bliss, its largest renovation ever, so the city and county must keep up with the demand for off-base housing and expansion, as well.

EPDoT has been using GIS for overall data management since its inception in 2003. The system tracks costs for everything from road segments to street signs. The city started looking at pavement condition from the very beginning and has started making the PCI information available online in the last year. The PCI data is used for all the city’s resurfacing projects.

The PCI is also tied into El Paso’s Cityworks information management system, which creates work orders and other task information to track when street work was done, what was spent on repair, and repair issues. While they’re not yet using that for pavement work, Oscar Gonzalez, data management supervisor for the Department of Transportation, said tying it back to Cityworks is a natural next stop for the PCI.

“People have liked it so far,” Gonzalez said, “And the more information we can track in a GIS system the better it will perform.”

Read this and other GIS articles at www.zweigwhite.com/GISSolutions

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