Regional Models of Cooperation – Enhanced Data Sharing, Systems, and Tools

Webinar Transcript

Webinar Date: April 28, 2016

Volpe Center: Anthony Thomas
FHWA: Ken Petty, Brian Gardner, Jody McCullogh
NCTCOG: Kendall Wendling
Florida DOT: Terry Corkery

Anthony Thomas:  Good afternoon, and welcome to today's webinar on Regional Models of Cooperation, Enhanced Data Sharing Systems, and Tools. This is Anthony Thomas, calling from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe Center, and I will be moderating today's webinar. Ken Petty, Office Director with the FHWA Office of Planning, Brian Gardner, and Jody McCullough of the FHWA Office of Planning will be your hosts.

Today's event will feature an introduction on Regional Models of Cooperation, an Overview of the Benefits of Data Sharing, and presentations from one MPO and one State DOT who have worked together to build data systems that make sharing data and working together across boundaries more efficient and effective.

Before we get started, we would appreciate it if you could answer a few quick poll questions just to give us a better sense of who's in the audience today. The poll should appear on your screen now. We'll give you a few moments to answer, and we'll review the results as they come in.

So it looks like most people are participating on the call today individually, though we do have a couple of people that are in groups of two or three. And it looks like the primary roles are individuals that work in Planning and Programming, though we do have some program managers and executives, as well as modeling and data coordinators. And it looks like the majority of the individuals calling in today are from the U.S. Department of Transportation, though we have several MPOs represented, as well as State DOTs.

I'd like to thank everyone for taking a second to answer those questions for us, we really appreciate it. So I’m going to switch back over to our presentation now.

So in a moment, we will introduce Ken Petty, your host for today's event. But first, there are a few quick things to keep in mind. At any time during today's webinar, please enter any questions you may have in the Q&A pod at the bottom of your screen. Questions will be answered at the end of the webinar. If your question is for a specific presenter, please note that when you submit the question.

Today's presentation is also being recorded. The recording will be available on the FHWA Office of Planning website within two weeks. If you would like a copy of the slides, you will be able to download them from the Download Pod when we get to the Q&A portion of today's event. Contacts and links for the Regional Models of Cooperation Initiative will be provided at the end as well. Now, without further delay, I would like to hand things over to Ken Petty to get us started.

Ken Petty:  Well, thank you, thank you, thank you so much, Anthony, and good morning/good afternoon, everyone! I'm going to begin today with a very quick overview of what Regional Models of Cooperation and the initiative is really all about. The purpose of Regional Models is to promote best practices for transportation planning across jurisdictions. It's also about looking for opportunities where MPOs serving the same or adjacent urbanized area can work together on the development of planning products across jurisdictional boundaries. But it's also about, and includes not only MPOs, but State DOTs, transit agencies, cities, and other agencies that have formal roles in the Transportation Planning Process. Identifying opportunities to work together on Regional Planning where it makes sense can enhance the process and result in a better transportation system. Regional Models of Cooperation is a joint planning emphasis area of the FHWA and FTA and is an initiative of the Every Day Counts Program.

The next slide, please. So issues like air pollution, traffic congestion, they don't stop at the State DOT and MPO boundary; however, traditional planning responsibility oftentimes do. Coordinating planning activities across organizational boundaries requires a broad vision, persistence, and a shared commitment to achieving the best outcomes for the rider region. The lack of coordination can sometimes lead to project delays, process inconsistencies, and reduce the reliability. Increasingly, thinking beyond traditional borders is needed to address modern-age transportation challenges and is necessary to exploit the competitive advantage that regional planning provides. Regional planning has the ability to spur economic development, improve freight movement, reduce traffic congestion, and support health and quality of life. Coordinating projects across jurisdictional boundaries can help deliver projects faster and produce consistent system performance and reliability. This is particularly important where more than one MPO serves an urbanized area, or an adjacent urbanized area, where an urbanized area crosses a State boundary, and many other complex planning contexts. Next slide.

So today's webinar is the 6th of 10 that we plan to host through December of this year. Later this year we'll plan on featuring examples of Planning Partners working together across jurisdictions to produce joint planning products to plan for the impacts of new technologies and business models, and to more fully address multimodal planning and coordination consideration across organizational borders and develop Cooperative Freight Plans.

All Regional Models of Cooperation webinars are recorded and you can visit the FHWA Office of Planning website to view the recordings of past events. We hope you can join us in the upcoming webinars in this series. However, if you miss them, please be sure again to visit the Office of Planning's website to view the recording. The link to the website, as well as the slides from today's presentation will be provided at the end of today's webinar.

So today's webinar features a common technique—next slide, please—in regional cooperation, Data Sharing Systems and Tools. The presentations today will show how this technique can be used in different planning disciplines, project development and environmental review, and traffic demand model. We'll begin today with a brief overview from Brian Gardner, the systems planning and now the system team leader here in the Office of Planning at Headquarters. Then we'll transition over to Kendall. Kendall is a senior transportation planner with North Central Texas Council of Government, where she has worked since 2011. At NCTCOG, Kendall is manager on the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Team, focusing on social and environmental considerations of the long-range transportation plan. And today, Kendall will discuss how North Central Texas collaborates to share environmental data in its Regional Ecosystem Framework Viewer tool. Then we'll shift over to Terry, in which Terry's a Senior Systems Transportation Modeling [inaudible] for Florida DOT. Terry will discuss how the Florida Modeling Taskforce, and the Florida Standard Model support regional cooperation in Florida. All these speakers have great stories to share, and I want to make sure you have as much time as possible for Q&As at the end. So without further ado, let me turn it over to you, Brian. It's all yours!

Brian Gardner:  Thanks, Ken. Thank you all for the opportunity to talk with you today. I'll be speaking briefly on a couple of national census efforts on data sharing and tools. Two projects led by Federal Highway and the Volpe Center form the basis for today's discussion. Summary work done at the end of Every Day Counts #2: Geospatial Data Collaboration, sometimes called GDC, an initiative that reviewed ways transportation agencies were sharing data and analysis to streamline project delivery; and then follow-up case studies in support of Every Day Counts 3, looking at broader cooperative uses of shared geospatial data.

For the first project, the Federal Highway and Volpe team gathered information in a variety of ways. A literature review to find a broad set of examples at State DOTs and other transportation agencies who were using geospatial tools to improve collaboration. In addition to a survey that the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials and their GIS committee performs every year to look at how various State DOTs are using GIS in a collaborative fashion.

From these reviews the team identified 22 agencies actively engaged in activities that supported the Geospatial Data Collaboration goals; they conducted telephone discussions to explore their activities in more detail, and the map here shows the States that were interviewed. The team then developed a set of more detailed case studies that drew from those discussions and documented the agencies' experiences, and then discussed findings with many of the case study participants at two peer exchanges back in May of 2014.

Finally, Federal Highway and the Volpe team produced a report that included all the case studies, and shared some of the highlights from the peer exchanges. There's a link where you'll be able to pick that up. It's also on the GIS transportation website. There'll be a link to that, too.

In the follow-up study, the Federal Highway and Volpe team focused on broader collaboration beyond just project delivery. Five detailed case studies using geospatial data and analysis to work across organizational boundaries. The applications included things like shared transportation, demographic and economic analysis across an MPO region, the streamlining/implementing transportation projects—that's something that Maricopa Association of Governments, or MAG, used it for. Also collecting, maintaining, and sharing geospatial data with MPO members, something like COMPASS did, or across multiple units of government, like OKI, and SANDAG, or San Diego Association of Governments; or across multiple location MPOs, like West Central Florida.

Key findings from this effort included that building interpersonal relationships is a key success factor in structuring cooperative efforts, regardless of the framework used. Some of the case study agencies develop formal agreements outlining roles and responsibilities, but many of them did not.

For example, neither the West Central Florida MPO Chairs Coordinating Committee nor COMPASS developed a formal agreement. These agencies instead depended on cultivating and fostering strong partnerships to encourage contribution to the Regional Data inventories. Even agencies that signed formal agreements, such as OKI, reported that a key success factor was maintaining strong relationships with existing partners and forging relationships with new partners.

A second finding from this particular synthesis saw that agencies saw value in expanding cooperative efforts beyond their jurisdictional boundaries. Some case study agencies were focusing on developing partnerships within organizations within their jurisdictions; for example, West Central Florida Coordinating Committee principally works with agencies under their jurisdictional boundaries, but other agencies reported working with entities outside their jurisdictions. SanGIS, for example, established agreements with both the San Diego Association of Governments and the United States Geological Survey. MAG is also working on a larger collaboration that expects to support the entire intermountain West Region.

Benefits of sharing data tended to fall into five broad categories: Communication and Partnering, Efficiency through leveraging multiple efforts and reducing redundant efforts, data quality through feedback, and then processes. Notably, streamlined project programming, screening, and development, and finally decision-making.

Under stronger communications, users can use the data, consume it, as soon as it's published. They can also view the data through a common framework; for example, Colorado DOT had high clearance to its Online Transportation Information System, OTIS, in response to a request from the agency's permitting unit. This helped bridge the communication gap between the two units and strengthened their ability to collaborate. That's just within the DOT. Strengthening partnerships or new partnerships can come about through better communications.

Many agencies noted that engaging in regional cooperative efforts has allowed them to strengthen their working relationships with existing partners and create relationships with new partners. MAG found this in developing a variety of interactive mapping analysis applications, providing a foundation for the agency to work with partners across the larger Intermountain West region.

In West Florida, it was noted that past work with Hillsborough MPO, developing a regional GIS provided a basis to identify new collaboration opportunities for a regional-level geospatial visualization tool.

With better efficiencies users can more easily access and understand data gaps to better target data collection and reduce the possibility that multiple data owners will collect the same information. Also having a common data entry point makes it easier and more efficient for users to find information and respond to data requests. Pennsylvania DOT, for example, saved an estimated $100,000 by simply developing a map showing the location of all the bridges across the State and their condition. This allowed the bridge engineering unit to avoid hiring consultants to complete their own assessment. On this point, also, both the City and County of San Diego recognized that they were collecting a duplicate of data sets, and there was an opportunity to combine their efforts; SanGIS was created to resolve this issue.

In West Central Florida, a regional data inventory made it easier for the Committee and its member organizations to identify data gaps, and plan to address them. OKI and regional emergency responders found they needed to collect the same data on school locations. RAVEN911 was developed in part to eliminate this need to collect the same data twice.

Improving data quality, and making the information more transparent helps users see where there are data quality control issues, and encourages data owners to quickly address errors.

For example, errors under DOTs smaller units often don't have the staff resources to detect all potential data quality issues, so sharing data widely through multiple venues, like ADOTs web-based portals has helped increase the likelihood that errors can be quickly identified and addressed. Several case study agencies, including the West Florida Coordinating Committee, COMPASS, MAG, and OKI, through regional cooperative efforts help them improve and enhance their existing data. Sharing information with more partners can also help share the burden in terms of data gaps and quality issues, leading to better and more robust data over time.

For processes, it was noted that, particularly for project screening and development agencies that can access and share information more easily allowing for earlier coordination and during project development. Consistent delivery of decision information using better data sources, agreed-upon measures, and consistent presentation make it easier for partner agencies to accept and use information from others in support of their decisions. Finally, with better data in hand, agencies can make more informed decisions about transportation investments; further, they can make more strategic decisions at a regional level.

OKI and COMPASS each developed geospatial applications that display performance metrics for their regional transportation systems. These tools can help partners better understand how their own decisions will fit in the context of broader regional performance goals. Nevada DOT's Planning and Needs System Plans, a web-based portal under development, has a mapping component that will help Nevada DOT categorize bundles of transportation projects that have similar features. NDOT expects this system to help support the agency strategically evaluate its project needs and priorities at a much higher level than they currently can.

None of these benefits come for free, and none of them come easy. There're challenges reported across the board on gaining these benefits. These include things like resource constraints that make it hard to implement regional collaboration.

Standardizing/maintaining data collected for multiple partners is not trivial. Partners often have different perspectives on division for a regional tool, which would require these perspectives to be reconciled before you can really move forward. Organizational structures will affect the pace and extent of regional coordination and this will have to be worked with, and the rough edges addressed moving forward with any initiative. And beginning any new collaborative initiative will present unique challenges for every context. That was something that was also brought up anew among the case study participants and the peer exchange participants.

That's it for today's overview. There's a ton of information in the reports and follow-up information available behind all the case studies. I encourage you to take a look at those. If you’ve got questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to Mark or myself, and thank you all for your attention. And with that, Anthony, back to you.

Anthony Thomas:  Thank you, Brian, for giving us that great overview of Data Sharing Collaboration, and for sharing with us the benefits of working together across classical planning boundaries. I'd like to encourage all of the listeners on the call today to check out the case studies mentioned during Brian's presentation. There will be links to download those case study reports during the Q&A section of this webinar. Now, I'd like to turn things over to Kendall Wendling with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Kendall?

Kendall Wendling:  All right, thank you, Anthony. So, the North Central Texas Council of Governments serves as the metropolitan planning organization for the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. And today, I'm going to show one example of an environmental data-sharing initiative that has led to more partner engagement with both traditional and nontraditional partners, that has helped us to more fully integrate environmental considerations earlier in the transportation planning process, and has ultimately resulted in some mutual benefits.

So briefly, some regional perspective on the Dallas-Ft. Worth MPO. We are a large region that's continuing to grow. In terms of land size, we are the second largest planning area and the fourth largest by population. And we're currently about 7 million people today, and we're projecting that we'll reach nearly 11 million by the year 2040. Our current long-range transportation plan identifies nearly $120 billion in transportation improvements through the year 2040. And something that's a little unique to our region is that we're still building new capacity projects and identifying those projects in our plan, but there is an increasing focus on capital asset management and maintenance.

So the environmental data-sharing effort that I'm going to share with you today was initiated by a grant that we received from the Federal Highway Administration to implement the ecological principles into our transportation planning process.

So some major products that we've produced with this grant include the regional eco-system framework, or REF. And this is a GIS-based preliminary environmental screening tool that's used to identify natural resources in our area. And it was developed as feedback from resource and regulatory agency partners and overall, the idea is to identify areas of ecological value to avoid earlier on in the transportation project development process. And I have several maps on the next few slides.
Through this grant, we've also applied the REF data to an existing Corridor Feasibility Study to compare the existing Environmental Data Analysis in the Corridor Feasibility Study process with our enhanced REF data. We also created an interactive mapping site, which we call the REF Interactive Viewer, to share the REF data as well as about 40 other environmental-related data with our partners. So this is a publicly accessible site that I'm going to give a demonstration of here in a second.

And then the last major focus of this ecological grant is our mitigation assessment, so we are working partners to determine if existing mitigation credits in our region can meet the demand of transportation projects that are identified in our long-range transportation plan. So here's a little bit more background about the Regional Ecosystem Framework.

There are ten underlying data layers that feed into the REF tool, and these are split into the categories of green infrastructure, water considerations, and ecosystem value. So you see all the different categories listed there.

And then for each of these 10 individual data layers, each sub-watershed in our region is given a score based on the presence of each ecological resource. So those maps are pretty small, but this is just to show what goes into the overall regional ecosystem framework composite map, which is shown on this next slide.

So this composite map shows areas of relative ecological importance in the region at the sub-water sub-level. And it's important to note that this REF map represents quantity of resources, and not quality. And that's just due to the data that we were able to get from our partners. And this REF composite map has been integrated into our Mobility 2040 Planning Process through environmental scoring of the projects. Okay, so that's the background about our REF data tool.

So now I'm going to talk a little bit about how we've gone about sharing that information, not only with the partners that helped us develop it, but with transportation partners as well.

So we determined that we wanted to create an interactive mapping site. We thought that would be the best way to share the data with our partner agencies. So you'll see on this slide, the different data kit categories that are included on the website, so in addition to the REF layers, we also have data related to historic, land use, land cover, outdoor recreation and conservation areas, and water features. And the data source agencies include seven national agencies, four State agencies, two non-governmental organizations, and then lots of NCTCOG maintained regional data sets as well.

Okay, so now barring any technical difficulties, I am going to give a demonstration of the actual REF websites. So this is what the REF interactive viewer looks like. So it's hosted on ESRI ArcGIS online. And you can see here that there are several layers being shown. And the layer list includes all 40 of the layers that are included in the tool. So you can toggle these layers on and off, and if you're wanting to create a map to save, you can change the order of the data layers as well.

So for each layer you can find a lot of additional information. So the Show Item Details tab will take you to a page that will give you information about the data source, a description of the layer, as well as the date. And this site functions similarly to your RPIS desktop, so you can look at attribute information for each of the layers. And then you can also go in and click on the map and pull up additional information. So I clicked on one of the sub-watersheds that has an REF score and here we'll show you the individual scores for all of the REF layers. And you can click through and see additional information as well.

We also incorporated the ability to draw on the map, so you can draw and measure whatever you want to include. And then there's the ability to print and save the map. I also wanted to mention if you have access to GIS on your desktop, and you have an ArcGIS online account, you can directly upload these layers that are included in the Interactive Viewer to your desktop, so we think that's a really great feature.
And then finally, there are some links here at the top that I think are really useful. There's some project background information in the What Is REF? tab. Some explanation on how to most effectively use the tool is in the User Guide tab. The Data Dictionary is a compilation of all of the data layer information. And then we have the ability for users to leave feedback. And we're really intending for this interactive viewer to not be just a static product that we produce. We want to hear feedback from users and know if there's newer data available that we can include. So that is the demo.

So now I'm going to switch back to the presentation. All right, so in terms of the website logistics, I mentioned that we use the ESRI ArcGIS online mapping platform. And that made sense for us because our agency already had an existing account. We budgeted approximately $10,000 to develop the website and spent about 300 hours in staff time.

Now I will mention that we had the opportunity to use a web developer that we have on staff. So I think that helped us keep the staff hours and time a little bit lower. We did have to purchase some data credits, since some of the data layers that we were uploading to the site were very large.

And then some key takeaways that I wanted to share that we found to be important as we developed the site. Obviously data organization is very critical. We had several team members working on getting all the layers organized and ready to upload, so organization was very important.

Documenting methodology to create the spatial layers was also something we learned kind of halfway through the process that we should be doing.

And then also it's important to be transparent when incorporating feedback that we received from our stakeholders. So before we officially launched the website, we had a few partners test the beta version of our site, and they provided a lot of great feedback about the layout and then what was included in the User's Guide as well. So we incorporated that information before we officially launched the site.

So we had several groups that have helped us develop and then test and are now encouraging the use of the REF mapping website. So these groups are listed on this slide. The first one is our Traces Group, which is made up of resource and regulatory agency stakeholders that we engage whenever we do an update to our long-range transportation plan. We also have the Planning and Environmental Linkages, or PEL, workgroup. And this is made up of our State DOT District environmental coordinators. And they work with us to streamline project delivery on regionally significant projects. And then these last two groups, the Technical Advisory Committee and Conservation Stakeholder Group were formed to support the mitigation assessment portion of our ecological grants. They help us with both technical aspects of the mitigation assessment and coordination on common goals and challenges that transportation and environmental agencies face.

So these next two slides are just examples of how the REF has been applied in the real world. So I mentioned this earlier. We applied the REF data to an existing corridor study for the Loop-9 Corridor in our region. And we also identified potential conservation areas to avoid during later refinement of alignment alternatives, and possibly to serve as mitigation areas during project development.

And then another REF application is in the Mobility 2040 Long-Range Transportation Plan. The underlying REF data was incorporated into our environmental scoring. So each roadway and transit project that's recommended in our long-range transportation plan was given a score for several factors based on their potential for environmental impacts. So you'll see several resource categories: water, ecology, and land cover. And then scoring questions for each of the roadway and transit projects. So the REF is directly integrated into our planning process through this environmental scoring.

And then I also wanted to mention, we have had an external user use the REF on a project. So there was a utility company in our region that used the REF as a screening tool to compare alternative locations of a proposed transmission line. So, as we continue to encourage partners to use our REF mapping website, we hope that there will be more examples like that.

Then finally, some benefits that we have seen through the use of the REF tool and websites. First, it's created a one-stop shop for region-specific environmental data. And it's helped us build and maintain partnerships with resource and regulatory agencies, which has been a struggle in the past for us. We also have been able to start a conversation about using common spatial data among planners and NEPA specialists and this could help to avoid duplication of efforts, and have more consistent data. And then finally we hope that the interactive nature continues to lead—of the website leads to more feedback and knowledge of data updates that we can incorporate into future versions of the tool. And our hope is that as partner agencies use the REF website that it will eventually save agencies time and money by identifying critical ecological areas to avoid earlier in the transportation project development process, and in turn this would ultimately also help to protect environmental resources.

So then this slide shows some lessons learned when we've been dealing with different types of partners. So for resource and regulatory agencies, we've found that they can be hard to engage, due to staffing and financial constraints. So some of our efforts that have helped us overcome those challenges include offering to compile or digitize data that they've gathered, emphasizing their expertise since we're transportation planners, and not environmental experts.

And then we've also tried to start speaking a common language through this data gathering process. So there's a lot of environmental terms that were new to me that I definitely know a lot more about now, and we're able to have more conversations with resource and regulatory partners.

On the DOT side, I think this process has been able to show how ecological data like the REF can enhance their existing Feasibility Study process. And the next step for us here at COG is to create a template or checklist that shows how the REF data step-by-step could be incorporated into a Corridor Study.

And then finally, another very important partner are consultants. So these are the folks that are ultimately going to be using our website probably the most, so we're trying to promote the use of the REF website with consultants to show that it can help streamline their work.

And with that, there is my team's contact information and I believe the website links are included on the dashboard to the left, so thank you, and I'll be happy to take questions at the end of the webinar. And I'll turn it back over to you, Anthony.

Anthony Thomas:  Thanks, Kendall. I really appreciate you sharing about North Central Texas' Regional Ecosystem Framework, and really for detailing how the region uses data collaboration to incorporate the region's environmental factors into project development process.

More information about NCTCOG's Regional Ecosystem Framework can be found in the links provided during the Q&A section of today's presentation.

Just a reminder, to all of our participants. Questions can be submitted at any time through the Q&A Pod at the bottom of your screen. Questions will be answered at the end of today's presentation. Now I'd like to turn things over to Terry Corkery with the Florida Department of Transportation.

Terry Corkery:  Thank you, Anthony. Okay, I am Terry Corkery from the Modeling Section of FDOT Central Office here in Tallahassee. I'm going to be talking about a cooperative arrangement we have here in Florida among all the members of the Travel Demand Modeling Community. We call it the Florida Model Taskforce. So I'll discuss the organization of the group, the taskforce activities, and reasons the group was formed, namely to support Florida's Standard Model Platform, called FSUTMS, or "FaSUTaMaS", some people call it. Finally, I'll touch on the modeling research and data-sharing activities that the taskforce enables, and the importance of having a standard modeling platform in Florida.

To give you some context and tell you why it's so important for us in Florida to have this cooperation among modelers in the State, here's something you need to know. Florida has 27 MPOs, more than any other State in the Nation. In fact, the biggest State, California, has only 17. Well, maybe someday in the future, some of these county-based MPOs we have will merge into larger, multicounty MPOs, but for now most of our MPOs don't extend past county boundaries. So these 27 MPOs all have planning staffs using transportation models, and in recent years after efforts to merge several of the individual MPO models into larger regional ones, we now have 10 MPO and regional models throughout the State, plus we have Florida's turnpike model, the statewide model, and separate statewide freight model.

Florida DOT learned decades ago that with all these models, and all these modelers, we needed a statewide body that would coordinate the efforts of all of these MPOs.

Travel forecasts from these models provide important input data to the transportation planners throughout the State. They're used for MPO long-range transportation plans, plans for corridors, specific roadway projects and interchanges, Comprehensive Plans, and Traffic Impact Analysis for proposed real estate developments. Something becoming more and more relevant, Toll Feasibility Studies.

Generally speaking, we in Florida DOT Central Office coordinate the work that is spearheaded by our District Offices and MPO staffs. The Model Taskforce is the means by which we are able to coordinate this large group of modelers, including consultants working for State and local government and university researchers working on improving our modeling tools and procedures.

We typically have well over 100 participants at our face-to-face meetings. When we have an issue that needs to be voted on, consultants participate in discussions, but do not vote unless they are designated representatives of one of the voting members.

Here's our mission statement. I'll just say that we have someone recording the minutes at our meetings and these meetings are posted online for people to review. This is important to not only keep those who are not able to attend the meetings informed, but also as a historical record of our activities, and to help us ensure we operate in a responsive, consistent and credible manner.

We have our full Model Taskforce Meetings once or twice a year in Orlando, there in the center of the State, supplemented with teleconference meetings of our five committees, which are instrumental in directing and reviewing our research projects.

Over the years, we in FDOT Central Office have sponsored numerous research projects with our university researchers and consultants, as a result of direction in review by the Model Taskforce Committees.

Since the Taskforce was formed, it has been an essential ingredient in maintaining a standard model here in Florida. The group gives a voice to the modeling community so that Florida's modelers, in a sense, give us at FDOT Central Office direction on what needs to be changed in them modeling software, rather than Central Office forcing a standard model down upon its users. So it gives the users the sense that they are in control, and that's another key to maintaining standardization.

If you're not familiar with our Standard Model Platform in Florida, FSUTMS, "FaSUTaMaS", stands for the Florida Standard Urban Transportation Model Structure. Having a standard model across all our 27 MPOs allows us to share common procedures and techniques building on our expertise and implementing improvements to the model along the way.

What we mean by a "standard model structure" is, in addition to using the same software engine, Q-Voyager, we have adopted standards for file naming, input and output file formats, and acceptable ranges for model parameters and coefficients, and things like that, network coding standards. And having this commonality allows us in Central Office to develop applications that can be implemented by all our regions, and to hold training courses for all the users of our common platform.

The main vehicle we use to bring about the cohesiveness and cooperation needed to keep the Florida modeling community active, is our modeling webpage. Here it is, Model users can get information on taskforce meetings, both past and upcoming, and they can register for training courses that we offer. They can download input data and model data sets for the ten regional models in Florida.

And over here on the right side of the screen, if you scroll down the webpage, you'll see a sign-up box, where modelers can sign up to receive email notices of training and Taskforce Meeting schedules, and other news in the modeling world. So we feel very strongly that we need to continue the Model Taskforce Cooperative process.

I'd say the most important achievement of the Taskforce over the years has been the continued evolution and improvement of Florida Standard Model. And keeping everybody on the same page despite regional advancements, such as some of our regions use Activity-Based Models that kind of deviate from the less highly urbanized parts of the State. We've heard from several people from other parts of the country that the Florida Model Taskforce is kind of a model of cooperation that a few other States are trying to emulate. So we hope to continue this process well into the future.

Here's my contact information. Thomas Hill is the Section Manager in Modeling. He couldn't be here today, but if you want to email him, his email address is the same as mine, except before the "@" sign it's "thomas.hill".

So and there's the web portal. If you want to go on there and check it out, contact us, and we'd be happy to answer any questions you have. I don't want to rub it in or anything, but we do have a nice State down here in Florida. It's probably the reason why—or undoubtedly is the reason why we have such high growth, and it really highlights the need for good transportation planning and modeling. Thank you.

Anthony Thomas:  Thank you, Terry, really, for sharing with us how Florida navigates its complex modeling environment with its Florida Model Taskforce, and the Florida Standard Model Structure. I'd also like to, again, extend my thank you to Brian Gardner with the FHWA Office of Planning; Kendall Wendling and the entire North Central Texas COG Team; as well as, finally, Terry Corkery with the Florida Department of Transportation.

Now without further ado, I'd like to open up the floor to questions. And it looks like our first question is coming from the Connecticut Department of Transportation and this question is for you, Kendall, with the North Central Texas COG, Is there a tool to extract spatial data out of the LRS-based data set, meaning data that is then assigned to LRS network segments?

Kendall Wendling:  So I have to be honest, I had to do a quick Google search to see what LRS stands for. But on the REF Data Tool, the metadata information is accessible, so I think there was like coordinate information and the spatial reference information included in that. And beyond that, I would have to forward that question to our web developer GIS guru that actually uploaded all the data layers to the REF website.

Anthony Thomas:  Great! Thanks, Kendall. It looks like our next question is also for Kendall. Do you anticipate that the REF will help speed project delivery in the region?

Kendall Wendling:  That is our ultimate hope. I mentioned that we are currently working on promoting the use of the REF tool and website among our partners, including TxDOT employees, as well as consultants that work on NEPA Environmental Clearance Documents. So we're hoping that as those folks that work on those type of documents use the REF tool, they would ultimately be able to identify areas that may need to be avoided due to higher ecological value earlier on in their development of alternatives. So ultimately that would save money and time later on, if they knew those areas ahead of time.

Anthony Thomas:  Great! Thank you! And it looks like our next question is for Terry. Terry, does the Florida Model Taskforce also coordinate with modeling communities in adjacent States?

Terry Corkery:  We do not have a formalized coordination process with other States. But we do from time to time hear from, I guess, mostly from our consultants that work in other States, some of the innovations that have come out of those States. And we do once in a while invite people—representatives from those States to come down to our meetings and give us a presentation so we can learn more about it.
Anthony Thomas:  Great, thank you! And it looks like our next question is also for you, Terry. And that question is, What would your advice be to other States or groups of MPOs interested in establishing their own Model Taskforce?

Terry Corkery:  I would say that the most important thing is to have an enabling agency. We in the Central Office, Florida DOT, and the Modeling Section, serve as kind of a staff to the Model Taskforce. The Model Taskforce has elected a group of ‘Tri-Chairs’ that are kind of like our board of directors. They direct the meetings, but pulling off these meetings and holding the committee meetings and subcommittee meetings and so forth requires somebody to actually set them up, to set up a conference facility, and print the materials needed, and so forth. And so we accomplish that here in Central Office. I would say without somebody taking a lead role like that, then it probably is—would be very difficult to pull off.

Anthony Thomas:  Great, thanks, Terry! And this is just another reminder that if you have any questions, you can submit them in the Q&A pod at the bottom of your screen. And so it looks like our next question is for Kendall. Kendall, what is the primary motivation in developing the REF and REF tool?

Kendall Wendling:  Sure, so I think the main motivation was to establish more of a connection between transportation at the regional level to ecological consideration. So lots of times in a traditional transportation project development process, environmental considerations are just looked at the individual project level. But we feel like with a tool like the REF, it could be used to support looking at environmental considerations at the regional level, even before planning for project starts.

Anthony Thomas:  Great! Thank you! And the next question is for Terry. Terry, what was the modeling landscape like in Florida before FSUTMS was established?

Terry Corkery:  Yes, that's a great question! The whole reason we have it is because, well first of all, UTPS is what everybody was using around the State, and Florida DOT decided to create a variation of that, and called it the Florida Standard Urban Transportation Model Structure, FSUTMS. But it was based on a mainframe computer in the Central Office Headquarters building here in Tallahassee. So all the MPOs and their consultants had to travel to Tallahassee to actually run their models on that mainframe. And they couldn't do it during worktime, because the mainframe was being used by the rest of Florida DOT. So they had to kind of camp out inside the building and do their model runs overnight. Very cumbersome process, as you can imagine.

So some of the MPOs, that—better funded ones started to branch off and buy their own microcomputer-based software, things like Menu-TP and TranPlan, and just stop using the standard model. Florida DOT saw this happening and saw the inconveniences that would result from different MPOs using different models, different model software. You would no longer have a core group of people that could be fluent in the modeling language of Florida, they would not be speaking the same language. And we couldn't offer training courses on this one software package, because not everybody would be using it. So we migrated that to the microcomputer and that—we provide the microcomputer software free of charge. We in Central Office engage in a contract arrangement with the software provider and we distribute the software to all public agencies in the State, and we provide free training, and we hold the Model Taskforce Meeting. So those three things kept Florida standardized on the same modeling platform.

Anthony Thomas:  Great! Thanks, Terry. So the next question is for Kendall. Kendall, you mentioned before that developing the REF has helped improve NCTCOG's relationships with resource agencies. Can you elaborate on how?

Kendall Wendling:  Sure. So before we developed the REF website, typically we would engage our resource and regulatory agency partners whenever we were working on updates to our long-range transportation plan. And we would get a handful of people that would come and participate, but lots of times it was, we didn't get a lot of feedback from them, so I think the REF has helped kind of improve those relationships because the overall REF product and websites really helps their missions to protect their resources by sharing all that data information with transportation partners. So they were definitely interested in sharing data and having conversations about what the best available data is and what the best way to convey that data on the REF website was. So we definitely attribute a lot of our partnerships to this effort.

Anthony Thomas:  Great! Thanks, Kendall. So the next question is for Terry. Terry, have you seen benefits from the cooperation you have established between the MPOs and the State and modeling, for other areas of metropolitan and statewide transportation planning? Has FSUTMS been a catalyst for other kinds of cooperation?

Terry Corkery:  Yes, definitely. I mentioned our county-based MPOs, for most of the MPOs throughout the State. That has, because of the extensive nature of Transportation Planning for long-distance travel, we've seen several partnerships forming, regional partnerships among several MPOs throughout the State. And having a common platform, the standard model allows them to easily build larger regional models where you can extract part of one region and combine it with another region or combine two whole regions, and do some of that intrastate travel modeling that is needed for some of these long-distance corridor studies.

Anthony Thomas:  Great! Thank you very much! And it looks like our last question here is for Kendall. And it is, Has the REF helped reduce disagreements on where the most important ecological areas are? Has there been controversy throughout environmental scoring and project selection? If so, has the REF helped address that?

Kendall Wendling:  This is a really interesting question. So I don't think we've really had any disagreements per se on where the most important ecological areas are in our region. I will give one example of kind of some competing data sources that we've had to make a decision as to which the best source is, and we have three different wetland data sources for our region, and we kind of worked with our partners to determine which individual or combination of those data sources would be the most relevant and best available representation of what's actually on the ground. And then in terms of controversies surrounding the environmental scoring in the plan, for Mobility 2040, the environmental scoring screening was really a post-project selection analysis. So we used it after the project prioritization was done, and to see if there were any kind of red flags in terms of environmental impacts. So our goal for our next long-range transportation plan is to figure out how to incorporate that environmental scoring process earlier to ultimately inform the project selection process.

Anthony Thomas:  Great! That's fantastic! And I think that's all of our questions. They were fantastic questions, and I really appreciate our presenters being able to share their answers with us. And so with that, I'm going to turn things over to the Federal Highway Administration to close us out.

Jody McCullough:  Thank you. This is Jody McCullough, and I want to thank everyone for joining us today on the webinar. Thank you for our presenters for some excellent information and some excellent presentations, and I was really pleased that our live demonstration was able to work.

We hope that you found today's webinar engaging and valuable and we hope that some of you will be interested in working to apply these types of techniques to strengthen your own processes as you work in your regions and States.

I want to remind you again that this is the sixth webinar in the series. You can find additional information about our upcoming webinars on the website. There's also recordings of the past webinars. And this one should be available in a few weeks. And any other information that you need is either on our website, or you can feel free to contact me and my contact information is on the screen. And thank you, everyone, again for your time and attention, and have a nice day.

Operator:  That concludes our conference for today. Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Teleconference Service. You may now disconnect.