The county sheriff’s office, which is an internal agency of the county, does have some officers trained on the system who are currently using it.

“Police can map where wrecks are in intersections to measure how far out on the road something happened,” Howard said. Emergency services personnel, she added, are interested in measuring the slopes of peoples’ driveways to pinpoint which ones ambulances can drive into without damaging the back of the vehicles.

The county’s engineering, construction and maintenance division also is realizing some benefits from the 3-D technology in its internal planning processes. For example, engineers devising a plan for road work can access the 3-D map and make smarter decisions on how to improve that location.

Using the maps, potholes can be discovered, along with clues that may help workers detect if a roadway is in danger of collapsing. The technology also provides a snapshot of pre-existing conditions of a roadway or area, which may be useful if a complaint or issue is brought forth by a resident.

In addition, the 3-D maps also can be accessed in the field through a laptop. A user needs access to the county’s network, but as long as the connection is made through wireless VPN, the earthmine 3-D program works just like it does back at the office.

Looking Ahead

Despite the maps’ usefulness, to really paint an adequate picture of the county roadway system, the 3-D renderings will have to be updated as changes occur to streets and property. But cost could be a factor. The initial 3-D maps cost Columbia County $75,000.

Earthmine was only going to map the county’s urban areas, but went ahead and mapped the entire roadway system for the county anyway. Howard didn’t know how much an update to all the 3-D maps would cost. But she said the tentative plan is to have them redone every two years.

In the meantime, plans are in the works to implement a new online mapping function that has various map “channels” in it so that everyone — county residents included — can view the 3-D maps.

But it’s the county employees who will be working with the technology that Howard was most excited about.

“In addition to [the 3-D maps] giving us a 100 percent inventory of our county roadways, we now have all these end-users that become GIS users and help us keep our data updated,” she said.

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 1998, 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.