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Ground-breaking initiative by Colorado DOT for capturing and sharing location of underground utilities

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) missing or inaccurate location information about underground utilities is a major source of highway construction project delays and budget overruns.  Some jurisdictions have taken advantage of their legal right to control what goes into public right-of-ways.  I have previously blogged about Calgary, Alberta and Las Vegas, Nevada as two examples in North America, which have attempted to control the accuracy of location information about underground utilities including telecom.  The chief challenges they faced have been finding a solution to address this issue cost-effectively all the while providing survey-grade accuracy and creating QA/QC processes for ensuring that this information is accurate, up-to-date and secure.  In general this requires a multi-pronged approach involving government legislation and regulation, modern technology and partnerships between different levels of government, utilities and telecoms, and the construction companies and contractors.

I had a chance to chat recently with Rob Martindale, Utility Program Manager at the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Chairman of the GIS and Data Management Technical Committee for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and Page Tucker, CEO and founder of Prostar Geocorp. Rob told me that in Colorado the legislative framework for managing and sharing utility information about underground infrastructure has been developed and implemented.  Using a Cloud and mobile solution developed by ProStar Geocorp, CDOT has implemented ProStar’s Precision Mapping Solution ™ to be used by CDOT as well as all of the utilities, telecoms, contractors and other stakeholders in Colorado to capture, display and share the location of utility infrastructure that lies below the earth’s surface.

According to Page Tucker, ProStar’s Precision Mapping Solution leverages Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards including Web Mapping Services (WMS) and Web Feature Services (WFS) and is also designed to support quality standards such as ASCE 38-02 in the US and CSA S250 in Canada. The ProStar Solution is natively built to be open source using GeoServer and seamlessly integrates with other modern technologies and legacy systems of record including Bentley, ESRI and GE Smallworld.  It also uses standard map services such as Google Maps, Bing, and OpenStreetMap for base mapping as well as LiDAR and drone imagery when higher levels of precision are required.  The Prostar Solution even integrates with One Call centers allowing the State One Call center to provide One Call tickets in real-time, so that it is possible to display the location of all open tickets and their status on a PC or mobile device such as a tablet or smart phone. The solution can even auto-populate digital locate forms based on the new One Call tickets.  The Prostar solution is also secure. Page Tucker told me that the ProStar Solution is SOC2 compliant and can use roles and privileges in the settings as well as geo-fencing to restrict views of operator networks, which is a key requirement for telecom operators.  Century Link is one of several key beta testers on the Colorado state implementation and many other utility owners including Zayo Communications have also expressed an interest in participating.

There are two components to the ProStar Solution. Transparent Earth® which is the Cloud platform and PointMan® which is the mobile application. PointMan runs on both Android and iOS and can use the device’s internal GPS for mapping grade data collection as well as external GPS and RTK to identify the location of exposed or newly installed underground infrastructure in the field with precision levels that can range from a foot to centimeter accuracy without requiring a survey team.

The PointMan application according to Mr. Martindale is both intuitive and very easy for field crews to use.  Furthermore, construction contractors that have adopted the solution report that it does not add to their current workload and is already saving them time.

At this point the shared database does not include utility and telecom as-built data but Prostar incorporates support for bidirectional inclusion of this data with notifications to utilities when any of this data is changed so that it can be used for maintaining and improving utility as-builts.

This is a ground-breaking initiative involving legislation, regulation and new technology to address one of the chief causes of highway construction delays and cost overruns. CDOT’s adoption of the ProStar Solution is now getting the attention from other State DOTs as well as several Federal agencies.  Utah DOT for example followed CDOT and has also implemented the ProStar Solution.