What was once a system based on paper maps has now become a web-based geographic information system (GIS) solution that saves the county over $200,000 in annual labor costs.
St. Louis County, Minnesota, Saves over $200,000 in Keeping Roads Clean with GIS
A GIS-Based Application Streamlines a Program That Turns Community Involvement into Cleaner Roadsides
Adopt-a-highway programs have revolutionized the way America cares for its roadways. Despite the programs' incredible success, each state's program itself can be daunting for local governments to manage. St. Louis County, in northern Minnesota, manages an estimated 2,000 miles of roadways within its limits and relies on volunteer organizations to assist in the roadways' maintenance. What was once a system based on paper maps has now become a web-based geographic information system (GIS) solution that saves the county over $200,000 in annual labor costs.
Victor Lund is the traffic engineer for St. Louis County and oversees the adopt-a-highway program locally. The county had previously managed the program through an outdated management system. It was functional but not robust. The inability to map and track which volunteer organization was maintaining each road segment, or to see the cleanup status of each adopted roadway in real time, was a real concern.
"With more than three people trying to manage the paper map system, we realized we needed an automated system," said Lund.
There Has to Be a Better Way
The county was in search of a web-based GIS solution that not only could improve productivity and efficiency but also would encourage more community engagement by having a user-friendly public-facing interface. With this vision in mind, the county contracted with North Point Geographic Solutions (NPGS), an Esri partner, to make this application a reality.
There are two main components to the web application. The front-end component is a map where county employees and the public can view which highway segments are available or unavailable. Public users can create a profile and select a segment they wish to adopt or be put on a waiting list. They can also ensure that their organization or individual information is entered correctly for their adopt-a-highway sign. This information is then stored in ArcGIS Online, where the data is updated in real time.
The administrator component of the dashboard allows county staff to approve new highway adoptions, verify information, and contact highway adopters. It also allows staff to track when a cleanup was reported and how many bags of trash were collected. A reported cleanup triggers an automated notification to the closest maintenance department garage to send a truck to collect the trash bags. The system automatically generates reminder emails to groups that have not reported the required number of annual cleanups. With over 360 active segments, the application has led to a significant reduction in both the number of phone calls and the amount of administrative hassle.
Another key feature of the application is the public user's dashboard, where cleanup organizers can see all relevant information regarding their segment. The application also automatically sends reminders for scheduled cleanup events. County staff reported that before the application, the effort to pick up trash bags was uncoordinated. Not only has this application made the workflow easier for both St. Louis County staff and highway adopters, it has also encouraged more organizations to participate in the program. Now they can simply look at the interactive map to see what road segments are available. Before the application, the county had approximately 250 active segments. Now it has over 360, an increase of 44 percent.
GIS Increases Highway Adoptions
Having an efficient and effective GIS-based system to manage the adopt-a-highway program has proved to be cost-effective and have a powerful environmental impact. In 2021, the county had 888 hours of reported group volunteer time. Assuming an average of five volunteers in each group, there could be 4,400 hours of total volunteer time and likely even more. With a rate of $50/hour for a highway maintenance laborer, this would equate to savings of approximately $220,000 in annual labor costs. As for the environmental impact, 2,329 garbage bags—enough to cover a football field—were reported to have been collected in the past year.
Since many government agencies already utilize GIS to maintain their road systems, implementing an application like St. Louis County's Adopt-a-Highway app allows counties to leverage existing data to augment staff resources and streamline existing programs. GIS can streamline a variety of workflows to improve service delivery and achieve efficient operations by using the most up-to-date data. As a result of implementing a geographic approach, St. Louis County expects the increase of highway adoptions to continue in the coming years.