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Updated: 36 min 35 sec ago

Mapping vehicle captures Columbia County growth

Sun, 5/17/2015 12:00 AM

Marshall Square is only about 2,100 feet from Mary Howard’s office, but the retirement resort that opened last November ceases to exist in Columbia County’s Geographic Information System. The 3½-acre property appears as a large plot of land on online maps.

“It sure would be great to see that new building,” Howard, the county’s GIS manager, said this week.

By the end of the summer, her wish should come true.

In February, the Colum­bia County Board of Commissioners approved a $73,240 contract with Cartegraph Systems, an Iowa-based software consulting firm, to collect images of 1,165 miles of roadway as a part of an ongoing asset inventory program.

More than 90 percent of the contract, which runs through June 26, will pay for a vehicle with eight panoramic cameras suspended 8 feet in the air to snap 360-degree, high resolution views of the county, including the 4,058 new addresses that records show have been added since 2013.

The remaining funds will be used to indefinitely store images in the county’s database and enable staff to analyze growth, which Howard said is crucial for an area of Augusta expected to house a majority of the 3,700 cyberdefense workers by 2019. The car – in Evans last week – started making its way through the county on May 1.

“It’s like Google Maps, except we can overlay street data on top of new images to see how certain areas of the county have grown over time,” she said. “Obviously, we already know a lot of this information. This just helps us get a more complete picture...”

She expects the updated pictures to help determine trends along Washington Road, where state construction crews are widening the thoroughfare to handle increase in traffic.

She said the mobile mapping technology will also give the county the ability to inventory infrastructure assets and conduct “virtual field trips” to decrease lengthy outings required for site investigations.

From the office, she said county staff can re-create vehicle accidents, preplan highway bids, measure a property’s slope to gauge stormwater runoff, pinpoint underground cables, and determine if street signs are visible and if intersections have enough line-of-sight.

“The county has gotten so much return on this collection,” she said. “The software that we use to look at the county is super-fast and many times we rely on it as a first response to emergency calls, particularly when we need to resolve discrepancies in address listings.”

Alyssa Thingvold, the senior project manager for Cartegraph, said at least 16 other communities have contracted with the firm for 3-D street mapping services, including counties home to Oakland, Calif.; Memphis, Tenn.; and parts of the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan regions.

According to documents she provided, the technology achieves a high accuracy rate up to 50 meters and has successfully blurred 80 percent of the faces and license plates that were recognizable on camera.

Howard said the mapping vehicle has visited Columbia County three times in six years, making the trek on a biennial basis. She said it takes about 45 days to process three terabytes of data received, but that it’s not all mundane.

“The technology does blur out faces, but we did have a couple of people showing off their muscles last time,” she said. “It’s always fun to see those little treasures in the images.”

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