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5 SECTION 1 Introduction 1.1 Research Context Ideally, there would be seamless connections across sys- tems to facilitate data exchange, but this is the exception Need for Transportation Data rather than the rule. For example, planners assemble a vast Exchange Standards amount of information about a project as it moves from the The need for development of common data standards and Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to simple data exchange mechanisms within the transportation preliminary design. Instead of building upon this informa- domain has long been recognized. Transportation agencies tion, the designer begins with a clean sheet of paper. One rea- make use of a variety of data sets and software tools to support son for this is the incompatibility of the planner's Geographic planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operations Information System (GIS) and the designer's Computer- activities. Tools within each area are specialized, with data Aided Design (CAD) system. As the facility moves to con- requirements tailored to the specific function being performed. struction, information is manually extracted from the design plans into the construction management system, wasting However, there are natural connections across the life cycle of time and inevitably introducing errors. activities that create the need for information flows across indi- Most agencies rely on commercial software tools for a wide vidual applications. From the perspective of an individual proj- spectrum of functions, including highway and bridge design, ect, information developed in one phase becomes a starting construction management, maintenance management, field point for the next. Designers build on the efforts of planners, inspection data collection, and traffic forecasting. When a construction managers begin with the work of the designers, mix of tools from different vendors is used, when an agency and then maintenance and operations managers begin with chooses to switch to a new tool in the same functional area, as-builts and other information produced in the construc- or when an agency's partners (e.g., contractors, other juris- tion phase. Information also needs to flow in the reverse dictions) attempt to share data created with disparate tools, direction--for example, designers should ideally learn about they face a host of data compatibility and consistency issues. the constructability, maintenance requirements, and safety Lack of interoperability across systems means that agen- (via crash records) of a particular design approach. cies must expend considerable resources to build custom inter- There also are important horizontal flows of information faces, or live with duplicative data creation processes--with within particular phases of the transportation facility life cycle. associated inefficiencies and loss of data consistency and qual- For example, design of a roadway alignment involves consid- ity. In many instances, the result is that information that could eration of bridge geometry, retaining wall design, drainage be valuable for decision-making is simply not available. Com- structures, traffic volumes, and right-of-way acquisition monly agreed-upon data standards would yield substantial impacts. The efficient integration of all these facets of road- benefits, including improved efficiency, better information way design can provide early feedback to designers, which in quality, and increased flexibility to make use of emerging soft- turn can have profound effects on the cost and timing of the ware that best addresses particular business requirements. project. New approaches like design-build can fast-track the process, putting even greater demands on the efficient flow XML: An Enabling Technology of information. Tighter budgets necessitate better design effi- for Data Interoperability ciency to minimize construction costs. Increased reliance on software in many areas begs for more automated approaches In recent years, XML (an acronym for eXtensible Markup for moving data from one application to the next. Language) has become a near-universally accepted and