Mapping system to help I-26 effects 

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

    On Tuesday, members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee heard from experts about the impact to be expected from the opening of Interstate 26 that extends for approximately one mile through Carter County and benefits the Tennessee Base Mapping System can provide.
    "In August of 2003 a major event occurred in Tennessee as we saw the missing link in transportation between Tennessee and North Carolina opened," said Alan Bridwell, coordinator of the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization, about the opening of 60 miles of Interstate 26 between Johnson City and Asheville, N.C.
    According to Bridwell, the idea for the interstate project began in the mid-1980s and the groundbreaking was held in 1993. Now, 10 years later, the project is nearly complete as North Carolina works to finish a segment of the interstate highway which crosses through Asheville.
    Bridwell stated that now that the interstate is open, Unicoi, Carter and Washington Counties can expect to see more traffic along the highway as people travel between Johnson City and Asheville. "We think it will be a big benefit but with the emergency planning issues we need to step up," he said.
    With Interstate 26 traveling through Carter County for approximately one mile, there is a possibility that Carter County emergency workers may be called to that stretch of highway to work vehicle accidents and, possibly, more dangerous accidents, such as hazardous material spills.
    Members of the committee also heard from Glenn Berry, an analyst with GEO Decisions, who spoke about the Tennessee Base Mapping System.
    The mapping system will allow local emergency workers to view aerial photographs of the county as well as three-dimensional images of the terrain and roadways. According to Berry, local agencies can also add to the program to customize it and add details such as road names, railway lines and building footprints.
   According to information from GISource, a division of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, details such as vegetation coverage, tree lines, electrical lines, sewage pipes and water lines can also be added to the digital map database. "You can begin to overlay that information," Berry said.
   Nearly 40 counties in Tennessee are currently contained in the Base Mapping System; however, Carter County is not one of them.
    One of the benefits of participating in the program is that the state aids in the upkeep of the digital mapping system, according to Berry. "Another nice thing is the state maintains these BASE layers and they work with you to keep everything up to date," he said.
    As an incentive, the state only requires that the local government pay 25 percent of the cost of creating the digital maps for the local government while the state picks up 75 percent of the cost. "To date they have spent $15 million on this program across the state," Berry said.
    Also at the meeting, Carter County Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold and CCRS member Anthony Roberts spoke to the group about their mountain search and rescue program and how the program uses a digital mapping system much like the one that Berry presented.