Highway Features and Characteristics Using Remote Sensing, Mobile Mapping, GIS, GPS

Remote sensing technologies have been increasingly used in transportation applications in recent years. The key driving forces in the use of these technologies include the increasing data acquisition speed and decreasing cost, the rapid advancement of softcopy image processing technology, and the ever growing demands for more accurate, comprehensive, and updated data. Digital cameras and various types of digital scanning devices play a key role in reducing the cost and the time for data acquisition. Technologies for rapid geo-referencing for remote sensors also contribute significantly to cost reduction and speed increases. In particular, the combined use of Global Position Systems (GPS) and Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) makes automatic image orientation possible, a task that is traditionally realized through the use of extensive field control points.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), through its Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), has encouraged increased usage and application of technology to the highway inventory process. As part of this effort, RSPA promoted and funded a program to study remote sensing applications for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Roadway Characteristics Inventory (RCI) activities. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Center for Transportation Analysis partnered with the FDOT for this project for a feasibility study regarding Highway Feature and Characteristics Database Development using Commercial Remote Sensing Technologies, combined with Mobile Mapping, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

The specific objectives of the project include the following:

  1. Implement integrated remote sensing solutions to develop an accurate and comprehensive Roadway Characteristics Inventory for selected study road sections meeting Florida DOT’s production requirements.
  2. Assess the practical applicability of the proposed technologies with respect to their effectiveness, accuracy, fitness, and ease of implementation.
  3. Document the commercial remote sensing products, implementation procedures, and technical approaches used in the project.
  4. Recommend future project activities and feedback to the research and industry communities for technological enhancement.

By design, “The Highway Features and Characteristics Database Development Using Commercial Remote Sensing, Mobile Mapping, GIS and GPS Project” is limited to the development of data for the FDOT’s RCI database, as contrasted to other types of data such as traffic flow information. State DOT data requirements vary from state to state, so a list of features of interest to FDOT Planning was identified. In addition, the project is limited to technologies generally available to the Department that could be rationally implemented rather than exotic applications requiring excessive equipment or personnel costs.

The following techniques were chosen for examination:

Although remote sensing, mobile mapping and GPS have been separately utilized for transportation data collection, an integrated approach applied to a detailed roadway and roadway feature database development has not been fully investigated. The project provided an operational test of such an integrated approach. This test allowed the researchers : (a) to draw some basic conclusions about the feasibility of the integrated use of remote sensing, mobile mapping, GIS and GPS technologies for the purpose of infrastructure database development, and (b) to assess and compare the functionality of these technologies and their applicability in real world applications.

Reporting for The Highway Features and Characteristics Database Development Using Commercial Remote Sensing, Mobile Mapping, GIS and GPS Project is presented in two documents:

  1. Guidebook: Describes the overall project process, remote sensing general information and suggestions on which data elements can be collected by using specific remote sensing technologies or combinations of technologies.
  2. Technical Document: Contains discussions of the overall Remote Sensing Project, including descriptions of the specific steps followed for the investigation.


Rodney Floyd, Florida DOT,
Demin Xiong, Oak Ridge National Laboratory,