Cloud-based coordination helps Seattle manage road construction projects
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
Seattle officials are getting help managing coordination of road construction projects thanks to a cloud-based planning application that is improving efficiency and saving money for both the city and industry partners.
The SADA Systems’ dotMaps application helps the Seattle Department of Transportation plan construction work to see where possibilities for conflicts and collaboration exist.
When a project manager enters a construction plan into the system, dotMaps immediately displays other projects scheduled for the same area at the same time -- and it notifies all the associated project managers via email. The managers can then work together through dotMaps to resolve the conflict or take advantage of the colocation.
Heather Marx, manager of the SDOT Project and Construction Coordination Office, explained that she would "get an email that told me about the other projects that are happening in the vicinity but at a different time so that maybe I could adjust my timing to take advantage of sharing construction [and costs] with another entity. … That’s the whole point of the office. Everybody puts their plan in, and then we get together and see where the conflicts are and what we can do to work that out.”
Until now, the city used a low-tech database to track roadwork. “I wouldn’t call it exactly guesswork, but it was close,” Marx said. “We had an old, homemade database system that did a better-than-nothing kind of job keeping track. What it didn’t do well was identify conflicts and opportunities, so we had to do that basically with brute-force GIS analysis.
Besides identifying conflicts, dotMaps also helps with project sequencing, she said. For example, if two telecommunications companies are going to lay fiber in the same area, they could work together to dig a single trench, sharing the excavation and pavement restoration costs. For city residents and visitors, sequencing translates to shorter construction schedules.
“We find that we’ve been able to save about 22 days on average,” Marx said.
Marx's SDOT Project and Construction Coordination Office is the command center for dotMaps, which is also used by all the telecommunications firms in the city, the Port of Seattle, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities, King County Metro Transit and Washington State Transportation Department.
Project managers add their plans to the system either one at a time or in batch uploads. They can create a project by entering the exact or approximate address of where the work will be done, which generates a point on the map that they can later edited. The map can also show lines or polygons to indicate areas of proposed work, said Patrick Skoglund, SADA Systems' Google Maps practice lead.
On the back end, dotMaps uses Google Cloud Platform for cloud-based consuming, rendering and storage of the data, he said. DotMaps collects that data, syncing in real time with Esri’s ArcGIS or ArcSDE database and displaying the information visually using Google Maps. Because permits are required for construction projects, dotMaps also includes those, and it integrates with Active Directory to send notifications.
DotMaps tracks every action that happens in the system, making auditing simple, Skoglund added. And not everyone gets the same level of access to it. There are three core levels: administrator, project manager and general user.
Although a public portal is in the works, the application is currently for internal use only, but cities can download the data to use for public-facing offerings, Skoglund said.
Seattle has extracted the GIS data from dotMaps to create a web-based map that lets people see where construction is happening and what agency is in charge. Users can also filter by date or agency type and search for specific projects.
Chicago was the first city to deploy dotMaps in 2014. Since then, SADA has tweaked the application. For instance, there are now three main ways to visualize the data, Skoglund said: maps, lists and calendars.
“A lot of what we’re getting into right now with the city of Seattle is not overarching conflict management, but getting down to lane closures -- being able to identify what lane is being shut down and for what reason, as well as getting into different types of conflicts, so not just construction projects, but looking at special events,” he added.
Marx said it’s too soon to project a return on investment for dotMaps, but she’s happy with what she’s seen so far. In addition to the almost $500,000 SDOT has saved, King County has saved $106,765 and Verizon has saved $184,865 since dotMaps went live.
“As we go on and we have a chance to coordinate more projects through dotMaps, everybody’s going to end up saving some money,” she said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.