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See Implementation of Section 1517 of the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) Mapping (03/10/2015) for updated information

Subject: Information: Implementation of Section 321 of the 1995 National Highway System Designation Act - Utilization of the Private Sector for Surveying and Mapping Services Date: March 24, 1998
From: /s/ Original signed by:
Associate Administrator for Program Development
Refer To: HNG-14
To: Regional Administrators
Federal Lands Highway Program Administrator

The purpose of this memorandum is to provide general guidance and information regarding the provisions in Section 321 of the 1995 National Highway System (NHS) Designation Act pertaining to the utilization of the private sector for surveying and mapping services.

The 23 U.S.C. 306 provides "In carrying out the provisions of this title, the Secretary may, whenever practicable, authorize the use of photogrammetric methods in mapping and the utilization of commercial enterprise for such services." The NHS Designation Act amended Section 306 to require the Secretary to "... issue guidance to encourage States to utilize, to the maximum extent practicable, private sector sources for all or part of surveying and mapping services for projects under this title." Neither the original or amended Section 306 nor any other Federal law or regulation mandates the use of the private sector for surveying and mapping. Nevertheless there is significant potential and capacity within the surveying and mapping private sector that can help State and local governments meet their needs in those areas. This guidance addresses that potential.

In the July 5, 1996, issue of the Federal Register, the FHWA published a request for comments on the appropriate role of State departments of transportation (DOT's) and the private sector in surveying and mapping activities. Thirty-eight comments were received expressing views ranging from requiring State DOT's to use 100 percent private resources, to having State DOT's perform most of the work in-house. Most comments simply wanted better cooperation between the State DOT's and private consultants.

In December 1997, we conducted an informal survey of the States' use of consultant services for their mapping needs. Based on that survey, about 1/4 of the States indicated they contract out about 90 percent or greater of their mapping needs to the private sector. A little under 1/4 of the States contract out about 90 percent to 50 percent of their mapping needs. A little over 1/4 of the States contract out about 50 percent to 10 percent of their mapping needs to consultants. While the last 1/4 contract out 10 percent or less of their mapping needs to private contractors.

Based on the comments received on our Federal Register notice, on our field survey, and during our meeting with representatives of mapping consultants, it seems clear that there are appropriate in-house activities as well as activities that are more appropriately better carried out by the private sector.

  1. It is appropriate for State DOT's to undertake certain activities that are inherently governmental in nature to meet and carry out surveying and mapping requirements under the Federal-aid highway program. Such activities might include:
    • Preparing standards and specifications that are clear and easily understood in order to enhance an understanding of the State DOT's needs and the private sector's abilities to meet those needs.
    • Providing technical guidance, coordination, and administration of State surveying and mapping activities.
    • Working with academia and the private sector to develop and implement new methods and equipment in the surveying and mapping field.
  2. The actual performance of surveying and mapping activities are commercial activities similar to engineering and architectural consultant services or construction of projects by private contractors. The benefits of private sector services in the engineering, design and construction areas have been widely recognized as having benefits to the State DOT's by providing technical expertise and resources which may be difficult or expensive for the State DOT's to maintain in-house. In that regard, over the last few years, the technology in the field of photogrammetry and mapping has become very sophisticated and potentially expensive to maintain a high level of expertise in-house. A qualified and capable private sector exists that can provide States with services that include, but are not limited to:
aerial photographyhydrography
aerial digital data collectionimage processing
airborne GPS servicesorthophoto production (digital and conventional)
boundary (cadastral) surveyingphotogrammetric mapping
cartographic servicesphoto processing
chartingplanimetric mapping
digitizingremote sensing
engineering surveyingright-of-way surveying
GIS consulting and implementationterrestrial or close range photogrammetry
GPS surveyingtopographic mapping
geodetic surveyingscanning

Based on the information from our brief survey, it is apparent that many State DOT's may have substantial (based on number of projects and/or dollar amounts reported for in-house activities) equipment and other resources committed to maintaining in-house capability for aerial surveys and mapping. As with any other specialized technical area, there is a real opportunity for savings in the use of private sector expertise in such areas. The State DOT's should be encouraged to review their surveying and mapping operations to determine what areas could be best accomplished by the private sector. There are many ways that the private sector with its highly advanced equipment, technology, and expertise can enhance scarce State DOT resources in this field. An example would be to have consultants do subsurface utility engineering along with the preliminary survey work in order to enhance the State DOT preconstruction engineering operation.

With the rapid development of new technology and equipment in this field, State DOT's need to stay abreast of the methods and equipment that could be beneficial to their program. As stated above, many States already heavily use consultants to meet their surveying and mapping needs. Listed below are States which almost totally rely on the private sector for their mapping and surveying services.

IdahoNew Hampshire

Contacting one of these States to see how they administer their surveying and mapping program, what benefits they may have gained in switching to almost total reliance on private sector, or what problems have risen and how they have solved them could be of benefit.

/Original Signed by/
Thomas J. Ptak
Updated: 06/27/2017
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