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Building a Shared Map of the Nation’s Infrastructure to Enable Smart Investments

Funding the nation's surface transportation system has been on the Government Accountability Office’s biannual high risk list since 2007. The strains on the transportation system are amplified by shifting demographics, the need to transport the goods and services to support a growing economy, rapid development of new technologies, and the federal government's financial condition and fiscal outlook.

On May 1, Arizona State University hosted the National Academy of Public Administration, the National Academy of Construction, the American Geographical Society and leaders from across the country for a one-day summit. The summit’s focus was to explore the potential for GIS technology to inform the development of a national infrastructure map that could help prioritize and motivate infrastructure investment.

As the assembled group quickly learned, technology is not the problem. We heard from the Southern California Association of Governments, the Maricopa Association of Governments, the Puget Sound Regional Commission, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. All are currently using and integrating geospatial data from multiple sources to provide comprehensive assessments and visualizations of current transportation infrastructure systems and future requirements. These innovative regions are using their transportation maps to inform integrated road and rail maintenance schedules, test theories about incentives that change individual transportation decisions, and model economic development strategies.

Far more challenging than deploying GIS technology is the development of a strategy at the federal level to integrate the variety of mapping and data sources into a comprehensive national program. The summit attendees specifically identified the need to develop standards around various types of geospatial data to enable sharing across sources and consumers; to fund the deployment of a baseline level of assets that would provide national coverage of, and access to, geo-located data; and to assign responsibility at the federal level to a national strategy leader to manage and implement the project. These challenges all fall squarely in the realm of public administration.

Well-executed public administration can support the inherently political process of priority setting that requires the recognition of mutual interest and deal-making, and provide the framework for success. It is up to public administrators to make the case for investing in those cross-boundary assets that form the critical nodes of so many infrastructure networks, and compelling maps can mobilize constituencies to take public actions that generate common value.

Attendees also identified research opportunities that would address knowledge gaps in the area of national infrastructure mapping. Dr. Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, and Dr. Jonathan Koppell, Dean of ASU’s School of Public Affairs, are committing ASU to expand this one-day summit conversation through the establishment of new university-level interdisciplinary research initiatives at ASU that integrate their Schools of Public Affairs, Geographical Sciences, and Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

There are similar types of public administration challenges across a myriad of spheres and sectors that could benefit from this integrated approach, bringing together public administrators, academics and expert practitioners to develop governance approaches that encourage innovation while still protecting public interests. The National Academy of Public Administration, through its Fellows and its networks, intends be a catalyst for these kinds of conversations that can advance solutions for the most important policy issues facing our country today.


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