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Outdoor Advertising - State Study

State of New Jersey

Automated Data Gathering System

A Case Study

Brief Overview of State's Outdoor Advertising Program

New Jersey's Outdoor Advertising Program (ODA) is a centralized system administered by the Division of Outdoor Advertising, New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) located in Trenton. The Division is currently in the process of moving to permitting sign locations, rather than sign faces, in an effort to reduce the number of permits to be processed and maintained. There are approximately 12,000 active permits in their program currently. Permits are renewed once a year, all on the same date, and fees are based on the total square feet of sign faces at a permitted location. Locations are investigated by Division staff when a permit application is received. Complete sign inventories are not conducted on any regularly scheduled intervals. The Division is in the midst of conducting a complete sign inventory, however. New Jersey's ODA program must be paid for by fees collected through the program, and fees can not exceed program costs. The Division of Outdoor Advertising has three field people doing permit application work and a separate field person investigating violations. The Division's new ODA data collection system is called New Jersey Outdoor Advertising (NJODA). Phased-in implementation of the new system began in November, 1999.

Motivation Behind Selection of System (Technical and Administrative Drivers)

What prompted need for system?

Before implementing the current system, the Division utilized a Department-wide mainframe system that included a database of outdoor advertising permit information. The mainframe generated permit renewal invoices, printed out new permit forms, held contact information on each active permit and served as the accounting system for the ODA program. A hard copy file is kept on all permits including permit application, pictures of the sign, owner information, billing transactions, correspondence, etc. Under the previous system, the hard copy files were the most up-to-date source of information on the program as a whole, with the mainframe data base being maintained and updated as needed to keep current with billing requirements. The mainframe data base was not terribly useful as a data gathering and/or reporting tool.

The sheer volume of permits and a desire for more organization prompted the need for a new system. The amount of space required to keep the hard files in an accessible location was significant and the volume of paper copying alone was becoming overwhelming.

What were your system requirements?

There were the immediate needs of freeing up space and increasing organization. The Division also wanted a system that allowed individuals, both customers (permit holders) and Division employees, to have more direct, timely and relatively simple access to current data. Although the ODA program's data is not directly available to permit holders at present, e.g. not accessible via the world wide web, more specific and tailored information can now be provided to customers much more quickly and easily on request. Having a system with the ability to track illegal signs was not a significant issue for the Division.

Process of system selection

Once the Division recognized the need for a new automated system, they needed to decide generally the type of system they wanted and how to create/procure such a system. The Division did not have access to the appropriate in-house personnel resources to design such a system, so they contracted out for the system design, implementation and training. The Division did not consult with other states regarding system type or selection process. There were essentially three individuals -- the Administrator/Manager, the Director, and the Supervisor of the Division of Outdoor Advertising -- involved with selecting and procuring the system.

System Design and Development Process

Contractor versus in-house development?

The Division used a contractor -- Greenman Pedersen Inc. (GPI).

Who and what process was involved in technical planning and system design?

The Administrator/Manager, the Director, and the Supervisor of the Division of Outdoor Advertising met with the contractor to explain the ODA program and to outline the Division's needs with regard to data collection and maintenance. Those involved in planning are staff who actually use the system on a daily basis. These staff also work directly with the Division's field personnel and are familiar with their requirements.

Through an iterative process, the contractor developed a flow diagram of the system, meeting with this group on several occasions. The contractor defined what files would contain what information and how these files would be linked to one another. Custom queries and reports were designed based on the identified needs of this group. The group had decided in advance to use Microsoft Access software based on their familiarity with its capabilities. Consequently, the Contractor worked under that parameter throughout the planning process.

There were significant project delays between the design and implementation phases. Consequently, planning meeting decisions had to be revisited throughout the extended design process as technology options evolved in the interim. This was especially true with regard to the field data collection systems and equipment.

How long to develop system?

The Division experienced significant project delays that were not related to the development of the system itself. Department-level decision making and budgetary issues led to procurement delays that put the project on hold several times over the seven year period from contractor solicitation to implementation of the system. The Request For Proposal was advertised in 1992. The contractor was selected in 1995 when the NJDOT signed a contract with GPI. GPI began working with Division staff on system planning at the beginning of the contract, but procurement delays associated with certain hardware aspects of the new system caused the project to be delayed in the midst of system development. The Division finally starting using the new system in November of 1999.

Was the system designed to integrate with other systems?

The Division did not see any need to integrate with other systems. The mainframe data base, that was previously the sole automated storage system for permits information, continues to handle the billing and accounting processes for the ODA program even with the new system. Permits are renewed once a year all on the same date (as opposed to upon anniversary of the permit approval) so there is not a great need for the two systems to integrate. The billing and accounting process had never been a significant source of concern, either administratively or technically. ODA had considered at one point linking the sign data in the NJODA system to the Department's zoning maps based on Global Positioning System (GPS) data, but it does not look as though this idea will ever be pursued.

System Description

Hardware, including data collection tools

The system's hardware components include a server (Pentium Pro processor with 384MB RAM and a 41.0GB hard drive using an OS2 file system), desktop PCs, an HP ScanJet Color Scanner, Iomega zip drives, and an HP DeskJet 722C Inkjet Printer. The field unit system hardware includes: pen pads, GPS backpack units, digital cameras, and distance measuring binoculars.


Microsoft Access data base software on an OS2 platform.

System type

The NJODA is a client-server application using a menu-driven Microsoft Access relational database. The database is designed with four levels of information storage. Each level of information is password protected so that information at that level is only accessible to those approved to operate at that level. The system accommodates digital storage, displaying up to three photographs for each sign in the system. The system server has room for storage of as many photographs as desired for each sign, but only three are displayed on the screen. The system also stores and retrieves upon command scanned documents associated with a particular permit number, e.g. the permit application and any other relevant documentation stored in the hard copy files.

The screens are object-oriented, Windows type screens. As many fields as possible have pull-down menus to help eliminate data entry errors. Other error checking features include the password protected segmentation of the data mention above, and imported data controls. A different password is required to enter and have access to different levels of data stored in the system. For example, a different password is required to access administrative data such as sign owner information and sign attribute information, from the password necessary to run a query on all signs in a certain county. A different password is also required to download or upload system information. Imported data controls are implemented by the system when data from the field is uploaded for permanent updating of the system data base. Any new or changed data is displayed along with the corresponding previous value for that data item. The user can selectively opt to accept or deny any of the changes/additions.

The system can be queried quickly on a frequently used subset of fields (as identified by ODA staff). Other custom queries can also be created easily. (See Appendix A.)

Data Collection/Data Input - Procedure and Mechanics

ODA program procedures and practices

Sign locations are investigated by Division field staff when a new permit application is received or when a new sign face is listed on a permit renewal form for an existing permitted location. Field investigations also take place when a violation has been noted. Permits are renewed every year, but there is no regular schedule of field investigation. There are three field agents who work on permit applications and renewals, and one agent that investigates only violations. Field task assignments are made by HQ Division staff. The information required to complete a field task is downloaded from the database for use by the field investigator on their portable penpad. The updated/new information is then uploaded from the field unit to the database upon completion (see below for detailed description of this process).

How was existing data transferred to the new system?

New Jersey ODA had an existing mainframe system. The majority of the data necessary to populate the replacement NJODA system was able to be transferred from the mainframe files. NJODA also contains scanned documents from the permit hard-copy files. All of these documents were scanned in by the system design contractor. There are some data fields in the NJODA system that were not included in the old database. ODA opted to implement the new system regardless of these missing data elements. The NJODA system is gradually being updated through permit renewals and site inspections. The complete sign inventory currently in progress will contribute greatly to this task. New Jersey still anticipates, however, that it will be some time before the data in the system is complete.

Hardware/software data collection tools used?

There are seven basic steps involved in the data collection and data input process when investigating a location for a new application or updating existing permit information through field investigation. The NJODA data base sits on a server at Division headquarters. There are temporary storage areas on the server for downloaded and uploaded information. Sitting at their desktop PC (client machine), Division staff extract the data that is necessary for a particular field task (e.g. all signs along route 30 in Atlantic County) from the database. That selected piece of information is downloaded to the server. That information is then copied to the field pen pad machine. The field inspector makes any necessary changes/additions to the information (screens on the field unit pen pads are very similar to those on the client machines although slightly simplified). The data from the pen pad is uploaded to the server and HQ Division staff extract that data from the server for uploading into the database. The imported data checking procedure is followed and the main database is updated with the reviewed information.

Division staff have full access to and full use of all of the information in the database while a field investigation task is taking place. The piece of data that was downloaded and copied to the pen pad still exists in the database and will not be permanently changed until the data is uploaded from the pen pad and has been reviewed.

System Strengths and Weaknesses


System strengths identified by Division staff include:

The system is easy to use, menu-driven and user friendly. This reduced the amount of training that was necessary.

The field equipment is relatively easy to learn and to operate.

Division staff like the idea of having hard copy documents scanned and stored in system. This allows permit investigators to pull up relevant background information while in the field, and provides Division staff access to documents quickly without having to leave their desks.

The data download/upload system allows field work to go on concurrently with office work on the same data.


No weaknesses were identified.

What would you have done differently/advice?

Division staff is happy with use of a contractor instead of using in-house staff, and they are pleased with the particular contractor that was selected. The choices of the database software and system hardware have also proved satisfactory.

The delays in project planning and implementation were a problem because decisions had to be revisited several times. Even though some data was stored in the existing mainframe system, the Division was essentially moving from a non-automated system to an automated one with the implementation of NJODA. Consequently, implementation went quite smoothly because they were not converting to a large degree from one system to another. The contractor scanned all documents and retrieved the existing relevant information from the mainframe. At the same time, the Division continued to have access to it's hard copy files throughout the process. Except for eliminating the delays, there is nothing about their process that the Division would do differently.

System Costs

Design, implementation and training

The total cost for acquiring the system was approximately $1.1 million including all contractor fees for system design, implementation, data gathering and training, and excluding hardware costs. Data gathering included extracting relevant information from the existing mainframe system and importing it into the new system, and scanning in hard-copy documents.

Hardware and equipment

Total hardware and equipment costs were $78,100. This includes approximately $61,500 for five (5) each pen pads, digital cameras with memory cards, and GPS backpack units; $7,300 for one (1) pair of dimension measurement binoculars; $5,000 for two (2) color scanners; and $4,300 for one (1) color printer.


The division pays $4,000 per year ($800 per unit) as a fee for the GPS units.

For More Information

For more information contact Susan Catlett at or 609-530-3337.

APPENDIX A: Sample System Screens, Tables and Reports

* Case study based on site visit conducted on December 28, 1999 and telephone update conducted in October, 2000. Those present at site visit included:

Susan Catlett, Supervisor, Division of Outdoor Advertising, New Jersey Department of Transportation

Linda Cardell, Administrative Analyst, Division of Outdoor Advertising, New Jersey Department of Transportation



Textual descriptions of database screen images presented in this appendix are provided immediately following each image. These descriptions are enclosed in brackets. Within each image description, screen fields and buttons are identified in bold, italicized text. Other words appearing in the screen images, including data that may be displayed in a field, are in quotation marks.

screen shot of New Jersey DOT software copyright window including the NJODA logo

[This page shows the entry screen for the New Jersey data collection system. The New Jersey Department of Transportation emblem is on the right half of the screen. Centered on the left half of the screen is, "New Jersey DOT NJODA (Office)". Beneath that the screen says, "Windows 95/98 Version 1.1 1.1". Across the bottom of the screen is the message, "Unauthorized used or duplication of this software is prohibited. © 1999 New Jersey DOT"]

screen shot of the NJODA Control main window

[This page shows the main system screen when the user is logged on as "Admin". The menu options provided across the top of the screen include: "File, Functions, Administration and Help". There are two large boxes splitting the screen in half, left to right. The left box is labeled User Options and contains three large buttons. Each button is labeled with both words and an icon. Each button has a textual description next to it explaining the functionality that can be accessed by selecting that button. The first button in the left side box is labeled Quick Filter. The description next to it says, "Allows the user to quickly query the database for records with the desired characteristics". The button below Quick Filter is Custom Filter. Its description says, "Allows the user to create a custom query for complex interrogation of the database". The third button is labeled Add Record. The description next to it says, "Allows the user to add a new record into the database". The right side box is labeled Data Exchange and contains two large buttons. The first button is labeled Export to Field. The description next to it says, "Exports a database from the local machine to the server, ready for use in the field". The second button says Import Data. The description next to it says, "Imports data from the field back into the main database". Across the bottom of the screen it says, "Logged on as user: admin".]

screen shot of the NJ ODA Quick Query window

[This page shows the "NJ ODA Quick Query" screen, which is written across the top of the screen. There are a number of fields organized basically in two columns on the top half of the screen, and the bottom half of the screen contains a boxed-off area labeled Violations. The Violations area contains several check boxes organized in two columns. Across the bottom of the screen are five buttons including: View Data Form, view Data Table, Custom, Clear All and Cancel.

The fields at the top of the screen include: Application Number, Sign, Status of, Permitted Square Feet, Route Number, County, Sign Type, and Tag. All fields except the Application Number field have an associated pull-down menu from which to select the entry for that field. The check boxes in the Violations area include: Animated, Improper Spacing, Improper Backup, Poor Structural Condition, Flashing, Located on ROW, Measured Area > Permitted Area, Insufficient Public Service Message.]

screen shot of the NJ ODA data display window

[This page shows an "NJ ODA Tabular Data Display" screen. The data is displayed in seven columns including: Application Number, Sign Owner, Route, Milepost Travel Dir, County and Dealer Code. Each row is a different application number. At the bottom of the screen are three buttons, Print, Export and Close. Also displayed at the bottom is the total number of records in the table. This particular screen says "21 records".]

screen shot of the NJ ODA Application window

[This page shows an "Application" screen. The top of the screen says, "Application: 66527 [11 or 85]". There are four tabs that can be selected on this screen. They include: Application Information, Features, Location Information, Violations. The Application Information tab is currently selected. This tab contains several fields at the top o f the tab and space for the display of three photographs across the bottom of the tab. The fields include: Application Number ("66527"), Date ("5/23/2000"), Status of Sign ("Existing"), Sign Panel Status ("In Use"), Sign Usage ("Off Premise"), Inspectors ("Mike W"), Sign Owner ("Culver Amherst"), Dealer Number ("085425"). Each field has an associated pull-down menu except for the Application Number and Date fields. The spaces for the photographs are labeled Tag Picture, Sign Picture and Additional Picture. There are currently photographs in all three spaces. There are two buttons, Documents and Archives, located to the left of the photos. There are eight buttons across the bottom of the screen. These buttons include a printer icon, >, <, , <, >, Update, Cancel, Exit.]

screen shot of the NJ ODA Outdoor Advertising Inspection Report window

[This page shows the "N.J.D.O.T. Outdoor Advertising Inspection Report" which is written across the top of the screen. In the upper right corner of the screen is "Application: 66527". The screen is split into five sections. These sections include: APPLICATION INFORMATION, LOCATION INFORMATION, FEATURE, space for three photographs, and VIOLATIONS.

Within the APPLICATION INFORMATION section the following information is displayed: App No. ("66527"), Date ("05/23/2000"), Team ("Mike W"), Name Code ("085425"), Sign Owner ("CULVER AMHERST"), Sign Status ("EXISTING"), and Sign Usage ("OFF PREMISE").

The LOCATION INFORMATION section displays the following information: Route No., Mile Post, Travel Direction ("EAST"), Visibility Direction ("DUAL FACE"), Latitude ("40.80866"), Longitude (-74.1187"), Side Location ("RIGHT"), County ("BERGEN"), Municipality ("LYNDHURST TWP."), Sign Primary Description ("VALLEY BROOK AVE S/S 32 FT W/O RT 17 (RIDEGE RD)").

The FEATURES section displays the following information: Type ("GROUND"), Configuration ("BUS SHELTER"), Support ("OTHER"), Panel Status ("IN USE"), Number of Panels ("3"), Height (ft) ("6") Width (ft) ("4"), Measured Area ("72"), Permitted Area ("72"), Multiple Permit Location, Illuminated? (indicated), NHS?, Variable Message, with frequency (seconds). These last four pieces of information can be either checked or not checked to indicate whether or not they apply.

The photographs section contains space for a Tag Picture, Sign Picture and Additional Picture. Below the photos, the following information is displayed: Land Use Zoning, Previous Spacing (ft) and Next Spacing (ft). Three photographs are currently displayed.

The VIOLATIONS section displays the following information: Animated, Located on ROW, Improper Backup, Flashing, Improper Spacing, Poor Structural Condition, Measured Area > Permitted Area, Insufficient Public Service Message (Bus Shelter Only). These pieces of information can be either checked or not checked to indication whether or not they apply. Tag Status is also displayed ("N/A"). There is space at the very bottom of the page for Comments.]

Updated: 9/5/2014
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