When a potential public agency buyer conducts a title search in the state of Texas, as many as six different countries of origin may appear on the deed: the United States, the Confederate States of America, the Republic of Texas, Mexico, France, and Spain.

The result can be a quagmire.

An equally difficult situation for public agencies that wish to purchase property might result because of the various types of taxing agencies. Their numerous ways of conducting business may also cause right of way (ROW) issues that can cause project delays and increased costs in transportation construction projects.

For example, Maryland has a centralized taxing authority and information for the entire state is available from a single source. Conversely, tax authority for Massachusetts is local, “meaning that obtaining parcel information for the state would require establishing agreements with over 350 entities,” explains Kathleen Hancock of the Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech.

Hancock, who works at the university’s National Capital Region office in Alexandria, has recently completed a study on the integration of geospatial technologies into the ROW data management process, and her findings were the topic of a report published by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

Although computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) is often used to generate ROW plans, they are often manually recorded and filed on paper or mylar, and “vulnerable to damage or destruction,” Hancock cautions.

The associate professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is supporting an effort by the states to see electronic management of this information, thus providing “fast, convenient, and consistent access to all users, reduction of the time and expense needed to ship documents, the elimination of repetitive entries, the minimization of data entry errors caused by multiple formats, and the saving of money for transportation agencies.”

To identify this colossal data bank of information, Hancock surveyed participants of a ROW directors’ meeting to determine states that were using some type of Geographic Information System (GIS). She received information from 24 states, 18 of which indicated they used GIS.

“Only a very few have an operational ROW information management system that incorporates geospatial technology for one or more business activities. Although many states have strategic plans that include incorporating GIS capabilities into an enterprise ROW system, none currently have one in operation,” Hancock said. Consequently, she expanded her study to include consideration of innovative enterprise information management systems, and ultimately selected six systems for her case studies.

With Hancock’s case studies, she was able to provide ROW professionals with information about current systems that they might use or with data they can offer to decision makers to support the implementation of a system. She also provided a list of data elements required for a geospatially enabled enterprise-wide information management system.

Hancock stated that by using GIS or an enterprise-level information management system in conjunction with ROW processes, states will receive a number of benefits: reduced staffing and/or improved staff efficiency; improved scheduling; improved access to information; improved customer service; improved documentation and reporting uniformity; increased management flexibility; reduced redundancy, and improved oversight activities.

As an example she cited Illinois where a single person is now able to oversee the ROW activities associated with a multimillion dollar airport project. “Without the use of the information management system, this would be impossible,” Hancock said.

Furthermore, the use of a single application within Maryland’s Office of Real Estate has allowed them to cut their research staff in half “because researchers have desktop access to parcel information without having to physically go to the courthouse, locate the appropriate parcels, and manually extract the necessary information,” she added. Similar results can be found in New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

“Virginia measures the benefits that it has realized from its information management system through improved schedule commitments, reduced staffing costs, and increased productivity,” Hancock asserted.

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