Three-dimensional mapping technology is helping improve data accuracy and citizen services in Columbia County, Ga.

The county purchased eight panoramic high-resolution 3-D photos of its entire roadway system, encompassing 1,100 linear miles and approximately 2,500 streets. County staff combined the images with existing GIS data to form virtual maps that can be used for planning projects, code enforcement issues and emergency situations.

The 3-D images were created using an elaborate camera system and software package called the Mars Collection System. The suite was developed by earthmine, a mobile mapping technology provider located in Berkeley, Calif.

Think of Google Street View, but with the added bonus of measuring the height and depth of structures along the streets.

In August, the company drove out to Columbia County and photographed every road within the county’s borders. Eight photos were created, spanning the entirety of the county’s street coverage. Each pixel in the images contains latitude, longitude and elevation data.

When combined with GIS data, the 3-D maps give county employees an entirely virtual representation of street infrastructure that planners and other county staff are able to manipulate.

“A building frontage, the shoulder of a roadway to see if there is enough of a curve to allow for water runoff — we can look at all of those different things now,” said Mary Howard, GIS manager with Columbia County. “The ability to measure on the photography is what really gives it value.”

The 3-D GIS project has taken the county some time to bring online. Howard said Columbia County received the maps back from earthmine in about three weeks, but the sheer amount of data and limited staffing resulted in a slower rollout. The 3-D imagery is more than 2 TB and contained in more than 20 million file folders.

Training on the system takes no more than five minutes, Howard said. Those just looking at the 3-D maps use a simple “viewer version” of earthmine’s program. Advanced users can use the 3-D renderings in AutoCAD as a backdrop for development design plans, while GIS users can also import the maps into geospatial programs like Esri’s ArcMap.

Public Safety Applications

Columbia County’s 311 services have access to the system, as does the county tax assessor, property acquisition and sign departments, and county commissioners. But some emergency responders, such as firefighters and ambulance personnel — that latter of which are private contractors — are still on the waiting list to use the technology. They’ve only seen it work in the county’s office.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.