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GCN : March 2014
Costs for the Pennsylvania bridges pilot project CASE STUDY MOBILE COMPUTING The Mystery of the Miss- ing Bridges may sound like a Hardy Boys novel, but it was a real problem for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Of course the bridges weren t actually missing, but they might as well have been. There was no good way for state planners to know the number, condition and location of many of the smaller bridges in the state. Pennsylvania keeps detailed information on its larger bridges because it uses federal funds to help maintain and repair those whose spans are more than 20 feet across. All smaller bridges, thousands of which exist within one of the largest northeastern states, are the responsibility of nearby local towns or municipali- ties. Because the state wasn t re- sponsible for their maintenance, over time locations of the bridges disappeared from the records. "We knew we wanted to be able to holistically view the com- plete road and bridge system," said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Planning Special- ist for the Bridge Program Mat- thew D. Long. "But we didn t have a good way to make that happen other than collecting piles of pa- perwork from our planning part- ners, which would have to then be driven into the state office." Instead, Long and the state cre- ated an app whereby local trans- portation planners working for counties and municipalities could survey the roads and bridges in their local areas and report that information back to the state quickly and accurately. The backend part of the system was set up to run on an Oracle database that is served by three clustered servers running ArcGIS. One handles mapping data. One manages the mobile clients for the bridge app. The third runs the Web-facing front end. But even with a backend ready to accept data, someone still had to go out and find the missing bridges. "In Pennsylvania, a lot of peo- ple wear many hats," Long said. "So we knew we needed a simple system for recording data in the field because many of our plan- ning partners wouldn t be GIS specialists." The tool selected for the bridge hunt was the rugged ix104c5 tab- let from Xplore Technologies. The unit features a sunlight-readable display, and it is rated to survive drops of up to seven feet in height. It also has a battery life of more than six hours, enough for work- ers to spend almost all day in the field without needing to recharge. By leveraging funds from the Federal Highway Administra- tion, Pennsylvania purchased the tablets and the software, as well as the customization needed to make it all work with the bridge How local planners used a tablet and Web app to track down, survey and document thousands of unidentified bridges. App helps Pennsylvania get its bridges back BY JOHN BREEDEN II 22 GCN MARCH 2014 • GCN.COM $290,000 Customized application (included overhaul of user interface) $200,000 Field collection equipment (Xplore DMSR) $135,000 Arc Server infrastructure