I think ArcGIS Dashboards has had a huge impact on how we communicate and even how this information is ingested because it's a more effective tool. We've got lots of feedback indicating that people are utilizing the site more.
Colorado Department of Transportation Enhances Commercial Truck Route Planning with Digital Maps and Dashboards
Commercial truck drivers stay safe on the road by preplanning their trip to stay abreast of potential challenges, including construction, weather, road conditions, and detours. As some noncommercial navigation systems and apps may not provide information on height and weight limitations and other commercial-vehicle restrictions, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has an office dedicated to giving truck drivers, dispatchers, and individuals who plan trips for truck fleets the information they need to plan a secure and efficient route and comply with federal regulations.
Freight Office & Permitting Services, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)
Communicating road restrictions and hazmat routing requirements to the commercial trucking industry in an effective and timely manner
ArcGIS Dashboards, ArcGIS Hub
A digital dashboard solution with current maps, photos, and data to provide a better user experience and more real-time information
The Freight Office & Permitting Services department at CDOT issues more than 60,000 permits a year through its website, with a focus on freight sent by truck, railroad, and air. The small team includes five permit writers who issue permits for drivers transporting oversize or overweight loads and hazardous materials. One of Colorado's statutory mandates is to share information on restrictions and hazmat routing requirements with the commercial trucking industry.
The office's permitting system has 21,000 registered companies, and each one can have anywhere between 1 and 500 big rigs. Historically, as each driver needs to have their own preplanned route, the Freight Office would create a public-facing website and provide drivers with a printed map. As this system grew out-of-date, Craig Hurst, Freight Office manager, CDOT, worked with an external team at Esri to develop a digital dashboard solution with current maps, photos, and data to provide a better user experience and more real-time information.
Businesses of all sizes depend on the trucking industry to maintain fast delivery times and ship products safely all over the nation, so the new site has given drivers easy access to what they need before and during their drive through the scenic Centennial State.
The Freight Office previously provided drivers and dispatchers with a printed vertical-clearance map to help with trip planning. This map included several key items such as ongoing roadway construction projects and any related restrictions as well as vertical-clearance information (height restrictions for interstate bridges). Staff also provided a map showing the allowable weight for each bridge in the state.
In addition to the paper maps, the Freight Office had a public website that Hurst describes as being "poorly sorted," with outdated documents that may have created a liability for the state. To keep the motoring public safe and informed of real-time restrictions and challenges, he set out to create a new solution.
"The main problem is that if we don't communicate [restrictions] as effectively as possible, we're really putting a lot of people in danger. And so, we were looking for a more effective way to communicate to the freight industry to meet our statutory requirements," says Hurst. "I spent a decade in the trucking industry before coming to the DOT, so I just had a different perspective and wanted to find a better way to tell a story."
Barbara Cohn, chief data officer for CDOT, made this project one of the first priorities to be worked on with the department's newly acquired Esri geographic information system (GIS) technology.
"As the government, we are here to provide the tool [for route planning] because we hold that knowledge and data of potential challenges. I started to understand the value that visualizing data is going to provide for my team," says Hurst. "So I was looking for a solution to visualize what we already knew we had as datasets but [also wondering], how could we use them to better communicate?"
To improve accessibility for drivers, Hurst also wanted to digitize the existing paper maps with the new solution. He explains that because his office manages an entire network of roads, it's not easy to build 100 different maps for 100 different roads. As such, a digital solution would contain all maps in one place, according to Hurst, and have detailed information viewable from both a mobile phone and computer.
Hurst says he and his team wanted to try something completely new, and Esri technology afforded them the opportunity. Kimberly Johnston, permit technician IV/GIS, Freight Office & Permitting Services, began creating multiple layers of data for the new digital map, which Hurst says enabled his team to have everything in one place to easily add layers. Johnston then began working with Julia Levermann, configuration specialist in technology services at Esri, to produce a new solution.
"We had all of our layers built, and we had already sourced the data to make sure it was a good source that we were able to publicize. And because we had done some of that prework, we jumped in," says Hurst. "Esri showed us options to select for our path forward."
Discovery meetings were held with Levermann, which she says yielded a robust picture of the CDOT data infrastructure, systems of record, and business processes. The meetings also provided different app ideas to streamline the team's workflow.
She ultimately selected ArcGIS Dashboards for this initiative and began to develop an initial application. ArcGIS Dashboards is a configurable web app used to create dynamic dashboards to monitor people, services, and assets in real time.
During subsequent weekly demos, Levermann showed Hurst and his team her progress and asked for feedback. She says the ongoing communication helped her produce the customized dashboard quickly.
Hurst tasked Johnston with creating a vertical-clearance map for the site along with different dashboards. Johnston explains that since Hurst and his team already had most of the map layers built, the vertical-clearance map would help get the layers ready for public use.
"Julia and Kim worked really well together, taking the idea and expanding it and making it more than I ever anticipated it being," says Hurst. "[The map layers] help us focus our primary communication to the industry by managing these maps on a daily basis."
The final solution is called the Freight Asset Map. It features disparate layers so that a user can choose the details they'd like to see on the maps, as well as eight different dashboards that detail regulations such as seasonal restrictions and the weight limits for individual bridges. The maps include key roadway information like width restrictions, road closures, and temporary construction restrictions. The layers can be turned on and off by Hurst's team, depending on the season; for example, snow may warrant specific closures.
The maps also include easy-to-recognize icons to help drivers stay focused on the road. Hurst says the maps use the same signage as the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) booklet, which shows common traffic signs and pavement markings.
The dashboards were embedded using ArcGIS Hub, Esri's configurable community engagement software. The dashboards include the following: Freight Restrictions; Seasonal Restrictions; Bridge Weight Limit; Vertical Clearances; Oversize/Overweight (OSOW) Restrictions; Hazardous & Nuclear Routes; Pilot Escort; and Long Vehicle Combinations (LVC).
The new Freight Asset Map site launched in 2019. Hurst describes it as a well-rounded tool that has allowed staff to more effectively communicate roadway restrictions and provide excellent customer service. Johnston says the vertical-clearance map, in particular, is valuable because it enables users to find answers to their specific questions.
"Our goal is to effectively communicate to the trucking industry, which . . . we're required to do by law. And so, I think that [our site] has been huge from an efficiency standpoint for meeting our goals," says Hurst.
"We are effectively a public information office, and we need to be able to efficiently provide customer service for 225 phone calls a day," he adds. "And we refer to the maps on our website regularly to answer questions."
The digital solution has allowed the team members to centralize their data. Also, the new dashboards are interactive, with tools that allow the user to input their truck details for more personalized information. For example, on one dashboard, a user can enter their vehicle's total height in inches, and the system will bring up every bridge on their route that the vehicle can't clear. Drivers can also view individual structures and highways and break down their route to the mile point for precise trip planning.
"For me, the maps are a quicker resource to find information and locations," says Johnston. "I think ArcGIS Dashboards makes viewing and finding data more efficient with [the ability to] search for specific data with the filters and the autozoom."
The dashboards also include photos, which Hurst believes adds a ton of value. When a user is viewing a structure such as a bridge, a photo appears so that the driver knows what it will look like. Hurst says this is vital because one of the most critical things that staff members communicate is bridge clearances.
"By having this picture, you can dig in further and see, 'Oh, that bridge is not an issue for me.' It helps you decide if that's something that you have to plan for or not," says Hurst. "So what we're doing here is, we're not only finding it for you, we're showing you a visual of what you're going to be approaching."
Hurst says that the ability to effectively visualize the Freight Office's data has enhanced the user experience. For example, users can see the whole state on one map or zoom in to a potential route.
"Before, we were relying on text to tell a story on the website to provide customer service. Now, having the Esri dashboards at our fingertips, [we can] guide [drivers] . . . and find out what route they're on to help them through their situation, based on our freight map," says Hurst.
He adds, "I want them to look at the stuff that should matter when they're making their route. And so, bringing the map to them, showing them the problems that they need to plan and accommodate for, [creates] a safer system."
Perhaps most important, the streamlined communication to commercial truck personnel will ultimately improve driver safety because the dashboards guide the user to critical roadway information.
"What we do is try to map [an area] and use all the tools possible to show what the challenge in that area is going to be. So that, for us, is a huge gain and probably the meat and potatoes of what we were trying to solve," says Hurst. "Now, we have an avenue in which we can communicate this [information] more effectively and bring it to the consumer."