Roadway Characteristics Inventory for DOTs Using Mobile LiDAR Technology

Roadway Characteristics Inventory for DOTs Using Mobile LiDAR Technology

DOTs across the Country are mandated by the Federal Government to keep track of their roadway assets and to report against these assets to receive Federal funding for their maintenance and repair. Many DOTs conduct Roadway Characteristics Inventories (RCI) on an annual basis to update and maintain their data relative to these assets. Traditionally, this has been completed using a boots-on-the-ground approach which has been very effective at building these inventories. Many DOTs are experimenting with other technologies, namely mobile LiDAR, to conduct these inventories and to achieve many other benefits from the 3D data captured in the process.

The next graphic illustrates the typical technology solution utilized for these projects. It is composed of the Riegl VMX-450 LiDAR unit, coupled with High-definition Right-of-Way (ROW) imagery. This system can collect at rates up to 1.1 KHz (1,100,000 pts/sec) at a precision of 5mm. It collects points in a circular (360-degree) pattern along the right-of-way from 2 scanner heads facing forward and to the rear of the vehicle in a crossing pattern. The laser captures 3D points at a density of 0.3 foot at speeds up to 70mph. This scanner can be adjusted to scan at a rate that is applicable for the project specifications to limit the amount of data collected and to ensure that the resulting point cloud data is manageable.


Right-of-Way imagery is also co-collected along with this LiDAR point cloud data. These images are used to identify appropriate attribution for each feature type being extracted from the point cloud. In this example, the DOT has digitized Shoulder, Driveway Culvert Ends, and Drainage Features (Culverts, Ditches and Bottom of Swale). Additional Features such as Signs, Signals, Striping, and Markings will also be extracted and then reported to the Feds on an annual basis. The mobile LiDAR data provides a 3D surface from which to compile the data and then the ROW imagery can be used for contextual purposes to support attribution. This methodology provides an effective process that can be used to create 3D vector layers and accurate attribution used to build a robust Enterprise GIS.

Both the ROW imagery and the mobile LiDAR can be used to collect and extract the RCI data efficiently for the DOTs and provides the DOT with a robust data set that can be leveraged into the future. The ROW imagery is typically used to map features at a mapping-grade level while the LiDAR can vary a bit in accuracy. Since the relative accuracy inherent in the LiDAR is very precise, it is used to conduct dimensional measurements related to clearances, sign panel sizes, lane widths, and other measurements that require a higher precision.

The DOT utilizes the derivative products from this RCI exercise to report to the Feds in a way that is pretty basic, but effective to achieve their level of funding. For example, the data capture is very technical in nature and focuses on high precision and accuracy. Then, the RCI data is extracted from this source data, maintaining a level of precision that is dictated by the source data. Then, the DOT takes this precise data and aggregates it up to a higher level and reports the total number of Signs or the lineal feet of guardrail. Even though the reporting of this data is pretty basic in nature, the origins of the data can still have precision and accuracy and can be used for other purposes related to Engineering Design or Asset Management.

In conclusion, mobile LiDAR and Right-of-Way imagery are a safe and accurate way to collect and report against RCI variables for DOTs. This methodology promotes a safe working environment for both the DOT worker and the traveling public. It is also a cost-effective way to collect large amounts of 3D point cloud data which can be utilized for other purposes within the same Agency.


Who is Checking Your LiDAR Data?

Throughout the years, I have seen many projects advertised, awarded, executed and then delivered to the client. The client receives the data, copies it locally and then final payment is made to the vendor and life goes on as usual. Then, someone actually checks the data and notices that there are many discrepancies associated with the scope of work and what was actually delivered. How does this happen and how can it be avoided?

Step 1 – Start with a Clear Scope of Work

The scope should define exactly what is going to be collected, how it will be collected and how it will be verified and checked after delivery. For example, a simple LiDAR scope must define the target point densities (LiDAR), hydro-flattening parameters, and accuracies (absolute and relative) for the project. The scope should also define how the client will be checking the data for final acceptance of the deliverables.

Step 2 – Process a Pilot Area

The pilot area should be representative of the overall project and should be processed and delivered as if it was its own project. This allows for the team to identify any processing issues or special techniques up-front so that the rest of the project can move forward in a linear fashion, thus limiting the re-visiting of the data to fix problems at a later date. Once the pilot area is delivered, it should be checked against the scope of work to ensure that all deliverables are being met in accordance with the client’s expectations.

Step 3 – Process the Entire Project

Final processing can occur once the pilot area is collected and accepted. This is a critical-path item that is the bulk of the project’s budget. Many projects will either be successful or a turn into a disaster during this phase. The risk is easily mitigated, though, as long as the first two steps of this process are in place and properly executed by the team. This is very reliant on communication between the vendor and the client and if these channels are in place, the project will most likely run smoothly since everyone is on the same page.

Step 4 – Data Validation and QA/QC

This is where the overall success of a project is either validated or issues are identified that must be resolved before final delivery is accepted. The processes for checking these data sets are specific for different type of deliverables – we will focus on some niche market deliverables and give examples of how to check their associated data elements.


First off – make sure you have some kind of software that can open this data. Seems simple, but many clients do not have the most rudimentary piece of the puzzle – LiDAR viewing software. There are many commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products that can be used and each one has its strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to be able to load the entire project in one place and then use the tools within the software to verify the deliverables. The most important items to check include:

· Average Point Density across the project

· Relative (flight line to flight line) accuracies – this should be half of the stated RMSE for the project (e.g. 5cm for a 9.25cm RMSEz spec or 7.5cm for a 15cm RMSEz spec.)

· Absolute (overall project) accuracies against ground control. Ground control should be on a hard surface and un-obscured and is typically tested to a 95% absolute accuracy specification). A minimum of 20 points is required, since one point out of 20 will get you to the 95% specification. Larger areas can require significantly more control.

· Data classifications (e.g. Ground, Vegetation, Overlap Points, Low Point/Noise, etc.) as per the project specifications (ASPRS or USGS publishes these specifications).

· Check terrain edits (look for berms that are removed, building points in ground, low point noise and other anomalous data in the wrong classes).

· Projection information in the LAS file header.

· Verify Intensity TIFFs as per user-specified requirements.

· If breaklines are required, check the following:

          o Water bodies meet minimum size criteria,

          o Interior points classified to water class and

          o Client-specified buffers around these features

          o Single drains (streams) meet minimum length and width requirements and are buffered as per client specifications.

          o Double-line drains (Rivers) are monotonic (perpendicular elevations to remove leaning) and are buffered as per client specifications.

          o For all breaklines – check elevations are at or slightly below terrain for a sampling of tiles for the project (typically 10% of project).

· Review the survey report

· Flightline trajectories with appropriate metadata, flight logs, and other raw data collection activities (GPS, inertial, etc).

· Metadata for all project deliverables (this can be automated with a metadata parser).

In conclusion, it is important to check your data immediately upon receipt, so that all quality control and quality assurance activities can be performed and verified while the data is still relevant. Good luck!

Mobile LiDAR and Cross-Slope Analysis

DTS/EarthEye just completed a 9-mile mobile LiDAR scan of I-95 here in Florida and provided one of our partners with cross-slope information in a period of days.   The data was collected with our buddies at Riegl USA using their VMX-250 mobile LiDAR.  This information will be used to generate pavement resurfacing plans for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

This project shows the value that this type of project can provide to the end user on both sides of the fence.

First, the paving contractor can use this data to develop their 30% plans for submittal to FDOT when bidding on a resurfacing or re-design contract.  Having accurate and relevant data related to the roadway’s characteristics gives the paving contractor an edge over the competition because they know what the field conditions are before preparing an over-engineered design specification.  This happens all of the time because the detailed field conditions are unknown while they are preparing their plans and they only have historical information to work from.

On the other side of the fence resides the FDOT.  They can benefit from this information because if they can provide this detailed information as part of a bid package, they can reap the benefits that are gained from better information.  If all contractors have the detailed as-built information (or in this case, accurate cross-slopes), they can all prepare their submittals using the same base information.  This will provide the FDOT project manager with more accurate responses based on true field conditions, resulting in more aggressive pricing and decreased project costs.

Here are some screenshots of the information.


LiDAR Data Viewed by Intensity and Corresponding Cross-Slope Profile

Once the data has been collected and calibrated, we generate cross-slopes at a defined interval and export those out as 3D vectors.


These vectors are then symbolized based on their cross-slope percentages and exported as a KML file for ease of use.


Although this is a pretty simple step, the presentation of the data in Google Earth makes it easy for the end-user to visually identify problem areas and design the corrective actions according to field measurements.


Mobile LiDAR to Support Roadway Resurfacing

We just completed a mobile LiDAR project that was designed to support a roadway resurfacing project in Orlando.  The project was centered on the use of mobile LiDAR to generate roadway profile data that Engineers could use to design a resurfacing project.  Obviously the data would need to be accurate and we were able to hit the mark and best of all – prove it!

Overview of SR417 Project

We collected the data using the new Riegl VMX-250 mobile LiDAR unit using a single pass in the north and southbound directions.  We only required one pass in each direction to collect the road data which makes it very efficient from the data collection standpoint.  In the past, we had to collect “strips” of data and then “sew” them all together during the calibration process.  In this case, we took the opposing (NB and SB) strips and calibrated them relative to one another and then they are brought down to control as a final step.

LiDAR Coverage by Flight Line

Most of our clients are interested in the overall accuracies of the data, so we have built accuracy assessment tools that make it easy to review the LiDAR against survey control.  The tool is simple to use and allows us to sort the results and dig deeper into the least accurate points to see why there might be discrepancies in the control vs the TIN surface.

417 Accuracy Control Report

For this project, we achieved an RMSE of .0525 ft – calculated by comparing the control elevations (Z) against the TIN elevations (Z TIN).  This is important because we can check the point cloud against known control that was collected throughout the project and provide detailed information about the accuracy of the data.

Once the data has been calibrated sufficiently, we can then generate all of the derivative products for this project.  We generated the following data for our roadway engineers:

  • Pavement Cross-Slope
  • Shoulder Cross-Slope
  • 3D Roadway Markings
  • Edge of Friction Course

3D Vector Data

This data set also supports detailed engineering analysis related to guardrail height above the roadway.  This is an important factor to consider because there are specific standards that define where the guardrail is placed, more specifically, its height above the roadway, to corral vehicles that end up impacting the guardrail in an accident situation.  The following graphic displays how this measurement can be made in the point cloud data.

Guardrail Height Measurements