The National Academies

NCHRP 08-174 [Pending]

Development of a Surveying and Mapping Guide for Transportation Projects

  Project Data
Funds: $600,000
Contract Time: 36 months
Staff Responsibility: Jennifer L. Weeks


Many state and federal transportation agencies have their own surveying and mapping standards, which leads to inconsistencies in measurements used in the design and construction of transportation assets. A national surveying and mapping standard would ensure spatial consistency, improve efficiency, minimize errors, and reduce duplication efforts.

There are some critical factors driving the need for consistent practices that may warrant consideration and adoption of a national standard:

1.  The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) requires the U.S. DOT to promote, implement, deploy, demonstrate, showcase, support, and document the application of advanced digital construction management systems (ADCMS) to enhance project execution.

2.  The National Spatial Reference System (NSRS), a coordinate system established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that defines latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity, and orientation throughout the United States, is being modernized. The NSRS is required to be used by all federal agencies creating geographic information. Included in the NSRS modernization is the anticipated replacement of the North American Datum of 1983, the State Plane Coordinate System of 1983, and all existing NSRS vertical datums with new terrestrial reference frames and a new geopotential (vertical) datum. The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) announced that it will complete modernization of the NSRS by 2025.  

3.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology and NGS deprecated use of the U.S. survey foot on December 31, 2022. The international foot has been adopted for all applications throughout the United States, including the modernized NSRS. The U.S. survey foot is currently used by 44 states. 

Research is needed to identify the most effective and efficient surveying and mapping practices that may lead to adopting common practices that could be implemented in a nationwide standard. 


The objective of this research is to create a surveying and mapping guide for identifying positional accuracies of geospatial data used in transportation projects by state agencies and others that clearly specifies practices consistent with open data standards, the NSRS, and the deprecation of the U.S. survey foot.  

The guide will help agencies establish an appropriate level of accuracy for a given application and provide the details of practices that, if widely adopted, could ensure geospatial data are reliably and efficiently captured, shared, and reused.  

The guide should, at a minimum: 

  • Define a set of common terminology;
  • Consistently characterize, document, and report positional accuracy to maximize interoperability independent of specific manufacturers, vendors, products, or software;
  • Ensure data is captured, shared, and reused by all stakeholders with confidence, transparency, and efficiency;
  • Support future lifecycle and business uses such as building information modeling (BIM) for infrastructure, digital twins, and asset performance prediction and modeling;·       
  • Discuss the overall return on investment (ROI) of positional accuracy and alignment with the NSRS;
  • Present a ROI methodology that calculates the benefits and business case for positional accuracy and migration to the modernized NSRS;
  • Provide recommendations for specific applications appropriate to various phases and business uses in the lifecycle of an asset or project;
  • Consider the benefits and risks of data repurposing and use of geospatial data throughout the asset lifecycle;
  • Include applications that consider both the spatial and temporal characteristics of the data; and
  • Include a companion recommendation commentary to the guide that provides a succinct section-by-section analysis of the background, rationale, importance, and benefit of each recommendation.

Final deliverables shall include (1) a final report that documents the entire research effort; (2) the revised guide; (3) communication materials describing the research and its products to a practical audience such as in a workshop or webinar; and (4) a stand-alone technical memorandum titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.

STATUS: Project work has been initiated as of the June 17th contract start date. The panel is currently reviewing the Amplified Work Plan in anticipation of an August 5th project kickoff meeting.  

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