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Ohio Turns to Private Sector Data Analytics for Smarter, Safer Transportation

A contract, awarded to Inrix and StreetLight Data, will extend out to multiple state agencies and local governments, streamlining information sharing and improving the state's transportation network.

The Ohio Department of Transportation wants better, easier-to-analyze transportation data. For that, it is turning to Inrix and StreetLight Data.

The department has awarded a contract to the two companies to use a suite of data sets and analytics tools meant to provide real-time, granular vehicle information to answer questions for planners and others in the state. The contract is centralized, meaning it will be available to the DOT and other state departments as well as local governments.

It will also include a relatively new Inrix product, called Dangerous Slowdowns, which lets public agencies and drivers know when traffic is rapidly slowing down and creating risk of vehicles slamming into the backs of each other. Inrix announced the product in May.

The data will come from GPS systems in cars and trucks as well as from mobile phones, and it will be anonymous and aggregated, according to StreetLight CEO Laura Schewel. Since it will be available to multiple people with different goals, the idea is to provide lots of data and an engine able to help users query many different kinds of questions.

Schewel said that will be particularly helpful to government agencies looking to plan new infrastructure and evaluate the effectiveness of past projects. Users should be able to track, for example, commute times from one location to another, or average speed of vehicles along a certain stretch of road.

“The status quo for Ohio would be doing surveys that took a really long time and were really expensive and had limited data,” she said.

That, or sensors with limited range. In-vehicle data — which is becoming easier to get, and should only become more widespread as vehicles become more computerized and automated — offers data sources more or less untethered from geographical limits and available when needed.

It’s also coming as the city of Columbus embarks on its plans to test futuristic transportation ideas after winning the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $50 million-plus Smart City Challenge grant in 2016.

The centralization of the contract is important, Schewel said, because it allows many government users to access the data and analytics they need without each going through the procurement process on their own.

She also sees the data package offering users the means to collect data from a computer at will instead of setting up a new data-collection expedition every time an agency or city embarks on a new project.

“If you’re doing a big project, collecting data can take up half your budget and half your time,” she said.

It also means that different agencies, cities and vendors can share their data and information with each other in a standardized way. Because they’ll all be accessing the same tools, they won’t need to transform data to meet different standards.

“Having a common source for data is a really big efficiency in comparison between places in Ohio and comparison across time in Ohio,” Schewel said.

Tom Hoyt, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, said the DOT contract is unrelated to his department’s experiment to pre-qualify data analytics vendors.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.