GIS mapping provides clearer picture of gaps in transportation access

colored route map illustration

Data is playing a crucial role in helping MCOTA and its partners, especially regional transportation coordinating councils, better coordinate access to transportation throughout the state.

Those partnerships combined with MnDOT GIS expertise are producing new data-based mapping that will show the gaps in transportation access. This is one important step toward improving access for Minnesotans who lack it.

“Transportation providers anecdotally may know of Minnesotans who can’t find the rides they need but understanding the whole picture of transportation access is much more complex,” says MCOTA executive director Tom Gottfried.

RTCCs and transportation providers know routes but managing all that data and information centrally and putting it into context presents a much larger task.

Enter MnDOT GIS. A system that manages, analyzes, and maps all types of data, GIS connects data to a map, integrating location data — Minnesota communities, with descriptive data — where transportation providers go.

“There is a lot of data in Minnesota,” Gottfried says. “GIS offers a database system that has the ability to take that data and identify where our problems are.”

Ultimately the project will result in a graphic representation of current transportation route lines, visually showing the gaps and helping quantify current capacity limits in a way not possible before. As the first project of its kind for Minnesota and one of the first in the nation, it represents a cutting-edge way to better understand the problems of transportation access in Minnesota.

“That understanding also makes it possible to figure out more workable and efficient solutions to meet those needs,” Gottfried says.

Currently, the GIS project has integrated more than 60 percent of the data — mostly data on public services. Collaboration with RTCC coordinators will help in collecting additional data, particularly from non-public providers. By next year, or possibly sooner, MnDOT hopes to produce the first comprehensive map of what is available now.

“Not only will this project help us in the short term, but its future impact is also highly important,” says Southwest RTCC program coordinator Shelly Pflaum. “The more we understand about the reach of current routes throughout the state, the easier it will be to identify the path forward to efficiently and cost effectively reach all in need.”