By Angela DeWelles / ADOT Communications
In the late 1970s, maps were primarily printed on paper and definitely
didn’t have the ability to point you toward any nearby restaurants or tell
you what traffic conditions to expect on the drive home.
Back then, work to develop the earliest Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
was well underway, but as evidenced by this 1977 photograph, the technology
wasn’t widely in use yet.
Taken for an issue of Newsbeat (ADOT’s employee newsletter of the day), the
photo shows Travel and Facilities Section Manager James Pfalzer standing on top
of a 15-by-17-foot map devised to help planners evaluate Arizona traffic statistics.
According to the accompanying Newsbeat article, the low-tech map was made
by piecing together multiple sections of a state atlas. Each of the 30 charts
displayed a 400-square-mile area. They were also covered with clear acetate and
marked up to identify state highways. Pfalzer is quoted in the story describing
the large map’s purpose and explaining how the information obtained from
studying the map would later be coded into a computer to log statewide traffic
“We needed a map that we could lay out as one continuous chart to show small
stretches of roadway in great detail,” Pfalzer said. “Our people are evaluating
some 600 locations where we may perform our annual 24-hour traffic counts.
These maps detail areas of the state where we can expect traffic patterns to
It’s safe to say modern mapping technology has come a long way in the last
Advances in the GIS field have expanded the usefulness of maps and changed the way
ADOT is able to manage and analyze information. GIS stores data and gives users the
ability to present it onto different layers of a map. It’s especially useful when comparing
and analyzing different sets of information, whether someone is looking for the closest
shopping center or prioritizing state transportation projects.
Current-day Data Analytics Section Manager James Meyer said that through its use of GIS,
ADOT is able to get much more value from its data.
ADOT uses the tech to create maps of the state’s highway system that display everything
from traffic volume and demographic data to pavement quality and capacity. The agency
also works in partnership with other agencies, sharing data back and forth with the State
Land Department and other state offices.
“Mapping is only 10 to 15 percent of what we do with GIS at ADOT,” Meyer said. “GIS is a
way of informing people about what’s going on geospatially. Most of our work is spent
keeping that information up to date … we’re more data scientists than cartographers.”
While some might take maps for granted, Meyer says he hopes that people realize the value
of all that data behind those maps and products they use every day.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see problems in the data if you don’t see it on a map,” Meyer said.
For a look at some of ADOT’s modern maps, check the ADOT website
It’s safe to say things have changed since 1912 when the Arizona Highway Department was first established. But you don’t just have to take our word … we’ve got plenty of pictures to prove it. We combed through our archives and decided to periodically post these photos from the past in a blog series we’re calling, “From the ADOT Archives.”