The intense summer road construction season often sees drivers avoiding one project only to head into yet another set of lane reductions. A new online app, The Summer Road Construction Interactive Web Map developed by the Town of Aurora, alerts both drivers and citizens to any construction project involving roadwork in the coming year.
The idea originated from a discussion between Cory Fagan, infrastructure technologist in the town's Infrastructure and Environmental Services (IES) department and fellow workers.
"Prior to this, we had all of the construction site data available in a spreadsheet," says Fagan, who specializes in working with geographic information system (GIS) data.
"We would have emailed the spreadsheet we used in-house to anyone who asked for it, but not surprisingly we didn't get a lot of requests. We also didn't expect busy commuters to phone us for that information. We were discussing something that could be displayed on a map that was easier to visualize."
Fagan approached Anca Mihail, Aurora's manager of engineering services, and IES Director Ilmar Simanovskis with an offer they found difficult to turn down. He would produce the online app for a budget as close to "free" as humanly possible, using no outside resources or consultants and relying on input from fellow workers.
"They're both very open to new technologies," he says. "I'm a GIS guy. I did my research and chose to display the data using Explorer for ArcGIS from Esri, which is a free tool you can use to share GIS map data on the Internet. I didn't want to work with a lot of complex programming or write extensive lines of code — just something where you could straightforwardly design the map, add text and images and easily upload updated construction data."
Fagan shoehorned his work on the project between daily tasks, getting feedback from town engineers on the most effective colours to represent map elements and on which icons looked best. Town project administrators were tagged to provide construction data, often polling outside contractors about the state of various projects.
Users access the service on the town's website at www.aurora.ca. Using the app to drill through the layers of an individual construction job provides increasingly detailed information about each road project, including the reason for the road work, exactly what the job will entail, start date and expected completion date. It also offers the name, telephone number and email address of the town's project supervisor overseeing the work.
"That contact information is already available to citizens elsewhere on the town's website," says Michael Kemp, manager of corporate communications with Aurora.
"All of the project managers were fine with the idea, as this is just a natural extension of the municipality's policy to embrace more openness. We thought it would provide the most direct way for residents to ask the questions they want to ask about road construction without having to pass on messages or relay information through several people or departments."
The app also features two to three photographs of the road construction project sites taken by summer students. "The details of the photos often show cracks or potholes that demonstrate exactly why the road needs attention," says Fagan.
"If someone wants to know why this road is being reconstructed, looking at the photos will answer their own question."
In addition to road work, the app also lists such projects as culvert maintenance, and work on sidewalks, water mains and sewer lines.
The app has been accessed frequently, since it was launched a few months ago. Council members and municipal planners also make frequent use of the visual information.
"My advice to smaller municipalities who are thinking about creating a similar web map is to start with a person responsible for GIS, and build the map on the ArcGIS viewer," says Fagan.
"You don't need to be an expert in coding to do that."