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.

Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.


PHASE I – Data collection and needs analysis

Task 1. Conduct a comprehensive literature review of academic and agency-provided documentation of current terminology and practices, challenges to be met, and industry needs.

Task 2. Plan for and execute stakeholder engagement of a diverse array of industry representatives from varying disciplines, business units, and areas of responsibility (including executives, managers, and practitioners) to identify institutional challenges, practices, and needs for the efficient capture, dissemination, and use of reliable geospatial data in and between agencies; how agencies might adapt to the modernized NSRS; and any issues or concerns agencies have about implementing agency adaptations.

Task 3. Identify at least 10 potential use cases that illustrate the importance of different application contexts and approaches to geospatial data management currently in use across different business units and disciplines. Select a prioritized list of use cases to include in the guide that illustrates different experiences, strategies, and methodologies used by transportation agencies to address specific challenges in geospatial data collection and use of data in different contexts.

Task 4. Prepare and submit a detailed outline of the guide and any supplemental products proposed to support the use of the guide by practitioners.

Task 5. Submit a Phase I interim report documenting the process and results of the research conducted to this point and discussing additional research needs or activities that may be required in Phase II to finalize and validate the guide with stakeholders from the practitioner community.

Following a 1-month review of these deliverables, the research team will meet in person with the NCHRP project panel to discuss the Phase I interim report, Phase II work plan, and guide outline. The contractor shall provide point-by-point responses to the panel’s input in writing. 

PHASE II – Product development 

Task 6. Execute the Phase II research work plan according to the approved interim report.  

Task 7.  Produce a draft of the guide document for panel review and comment using the outline presented and approved. 

Task 8. Prepare final deliverables, including (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: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.

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