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Tracking right-of-way land acquisition using GIS.

Abstract: HNTB has worked with the Illinois Tollway to develop a web-based Right-of-Way Tracking Tool using ESRI's ArcGIS Server. This GIS solution demonstrates an advanced technical approach to managing each phase of the land acquisition process, as well as 1) automating schedule adherence on a parcel-by-parcel basis; 2) allowing for server-based GIS editing based on engineering design files and parcel survey information; 3) providing users with simple tools for robust data-mining and report generation, and 4) integrating with IT standards to provide security and integrity of data.


The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority is the process of implementing a 10-year congestion relief plan to address the needs of an aging infrastructure and to accommodate increasing traffic demands on its Toll Highways.

The goals of the program are as follows:

1) Rebuild/restore 90% of the system, which has started to deteriorate

2) Widen/add lanes to many miles of existing roads

3) Convert 20 toll plazas to barrier-free, Open Road Tolling

4) More efficient operations

Included in the Relief Plan is an Enterprise GIS Program. The program calls for development of several web-based GIS applications in a short period of time, each targeting specific users and business needs.


The Right-of-Way (ROW) Tracking Tool was one of the first applications developed for the Illinois Tollway under the Enterprise GIS Program. (1) It was designed by HNTB working with members of the Land Acquisitions and GIS staff to streamline and automate the collection of ROW data and provide for automatic updates of survey information.

GIS was the logical platform from which to integrate existing ROW data at the Tollway. This data is typically stored in spreadsheets and paper maps (such as parcel outlines, plats of highway, and strip maps). By creating a web-based application to distribute and collect this information, users are given a more intuitive interface for interacting with the ROW data and a more efficient mechanism for data analysis and data visualization.

In addition to the many benefits of developing a centralized GIS for ROW, the application would provide more accurate reporting and tracking of schedule adherence.

Goals of the Solution

The goals of the solution were determined by a process of requirements gathering and user interviews. It was determined that the web-based GIS solution should provide staff with the ability to:

1) Identify parcels based on engineering design files and survey information

2) Query parcels based on acquisition status, property, owner, and taxpayer address, schedule impact, mile marker, surveyor, Tollway PIN, negotiator, and staff

3) Ability to track parcels based on critical dates vs. target dates

4) Generate reports on-the-fly and using various data-mining software

5) Protect sensitive customer information (such as addresses, costs, and contact information)

Workflow Challenge

One of the biggest challenges of this project was determining how to reduce a complex workflow involving many people and departments into a useful application. From the start, it was important that the application not introduce additional work for the users or make data entry redundant to other forms of tracking, and that the right kinds of information are being captured.

To begin, users were asked to contribute to a conceptual workflow diagram, with each user adding his or her specific responsibilities or requirements to the diagram [Figure 1]. The end result of this exercise was to create a system of relationships that could be used later when developing the application.

The three main groups were identified as follows:

1) Design Section Engineers (DSE) responsible for identifying areas of take (using strip maps, plats of highway, and aerial photos)

2) Land Acquisitions staff responsible for finalizing ROW needs (such as identifying costs, need for relocation, litigation, alternatives to take, environmental impact, etc.); and for seeing each parcel through all phases of the land acquisition process

3) Survey consultants responsible for delivering completed plats of survey for the areas of take

At the conclusion of this exercise, it was possible to determine how best to integrate a ROW Tracking Tool with existing businesses practices. The next step was to reduce the conceptual workflow into a logical diagram consisting of individual steps.


Logical Diagram

The logical diagram represents the lifecycle of a parcel from start to finish [Figure 2]. Once ROW needs are determined by the DSE, a parcel moves through a Title Work and Plats Ordered/Plats Received phase. Next, depending on if the owner is required to relocate, the parcel will pass through either a Relocation phase or move through a Negotiation and possibly a Condemnation phase (meaning that Negotiation has failed and that the outcome of the take must be decided in court).

Each of these phases is represented by a date, which is how we are able to track the lifecycle of each parcel. For example, the time estimated between Project Start and Title Commitments ordered is approximately 30 days. From Title Commitments ordered to Title Commitments received is an estimated 90 Days. The algorithm moves forward down the line providing users with target dates for each phase of the land acquisition process.

Because not every acquisition is handled in the exact same way, these parameters may be adjusted on a parcel-by-parcel basis. This turned out to be desirable rather than impose assumptions across the board for every acquisition.

In the case of a decision being made in the logical workflow, such as with the question of whether to relocate, an additional set of milestones is added, and each milestone has a corresponding number of target days feeding back into the tracking algorithm.



Figure 3 shows a tabbed interface where each tab corresponds to the phases in the logical diagram. The tabs are organized in a top-down fashion to represent the logical phases each parcel must go through. There are also tabs for documents and images, all of which when uploaded to the server are available immediately on the website.

The part of the form that is outlined in orange is in "edit mode." Edit mode allows users to add or delete information from the ROW database. In this case a user might be adding multiple acquisition types to a single parcel ID.

The collapsible regions of the form (Owner and Tax Payer, for example) represent "many to one" relationships in the database, meaning that there can be many owners or many tax payers to one parcel of land.

The map itself may be rendered to show different themes; in this case it is showing Parcel Status. Another popular way of rendering the map is by Acquisition Type.


Critical Dates

Figure 4 shows the status of a parcel being tracked. Once a parcel is given a start date (meaning that final ROW needs are determined by the Design Section Engineers), the target dates are calculated automatically based on a set of default parameters describing the length of time for each phase of the acquisition process. These parameters are also customizable on a parcel-by-parcel basis once tracking has been initiated.

Feedback is given on the screen if a parcel being tracked is within 2 weeks of its determined target date or if it is past due (indicated in red). A simple coloring system (red, yellow, and green) is designed to provide users with immediate feedback as to the status of each parcel. Reports may be created showing the status of each parcel, in addition to other attribute information in the ROW database.



The Illinois Tollway employs survey consultants to collect plats of survey and legal descriptions for land that is to be acquired. This information must then be made available within the ROW Tracking Tool. Because of the number of surveyors working for the Tollway, it is also important that the surveyors adhere to the same standards for data collection in order for data to properly be updated to the ROW database.

Goals of the Solution

The goals of the Survey Standards project were determined by GIS staff at the Tollway and are as follows:

1. To create spatial standards, naming conventions, and file formats for ROW geometry provided by surveyors as Final Plats of Survey

2. To provide a means for surveyors to view/edit/update data related to ROW tracking

3. To provide surveyors with a deliverable that can be returned to the Tollway and easily integrated with existing ROW data


The Survey Standards application consists of two related components: the Surveyor Tool and Survey Desktop Tool.

Surveyor Tool

The Surveyor Tool contains an MS Access database application for data input and a geodatabase for storing parcel geometry [Figure 5]. Both components are delivered to surveyors on CD-ROM and are designed to perform as a stand-alone, portable version of the ROW website. This method of delivery was the only option available to GIS staff at the time of development as it was not possible for surveyors to access the ROW database from the Internet.

Surveyors collect ROW boundaries that are then stored in a geodatabase. The geodatabase is linked to a related Access database that has user forms for attribute input. The parcels feature class in the geodatabase contains only one field that stores the Tollway PIN number. The Tollway PIN number can then be selected from a list in the Access user form and attribute information is then entered. Each tab allows for data entry that is specific to what the Tollway wants the surveyor to be collecting.


Survey Desktop Tool

The Survey Desktop Tool is a custom ArcMap extension for handling survey data check-in. (2) It is used by GIS Analysts at the Tollway to ensure that parcel geometry being loaded into the ROW system is compatible with existing data.

Once the surveyor has finished collecting survey information for a given area, the data is sent to the Tollway where it can be loaded into the ROW system. Figure 6 shows the custom ArcMap tool that is used to load parcels collected from the surveyors into the geodatabase. The Survey Desktop Tool checks for any duplicates and any data that is not formatted correctly. This allows problems to be fixed before they can be added to the master database.



The solutions presented in this paper continue to evolve to suit business needs at the Tollway. Next steps are to allow for server-based geometry editing using ArcGIS Server and an email alert system for critical dates tracking managed by the database.


The authors wish to acknowledge Kurt Lebo for his role in promoting GIS and related technologies at the Illinois Tollway.

(1) The solution developed by HNTB utilizes ESRI's ArcGIS Server, Windows 2003 Server, Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0, and MS SQL Server 2000.

(2) Developed using ESRI ArcMap 9.1; custom DLL written in VB.NET.

Alex Kavanagh

Sr. GIS/IT Developer/PM

HNTB Corporation

Chicago, IL 60606

Tel. (312) 930-9119

Michael Bieberitz, GISP

Sr. GIS Developer

HNTB Corporation

Chicago, IL 60606

Tel. (312) 930-9119
COPYRIGHT 2006 Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Kavanagh, Alex; Bieberitz, Michael
Publication:Urban and Regional Information Systems Association Annual Conference Proceedings
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:The history of the GISCI certification program.
Next Article:Application for ESIG Award: Department of Development Services.

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