Major New Funding Arrives for Height Modernization Program

Thanks to the efforts of Congressmen Timothy Johnson and Aaron Schock, the Illinois State Geological Survey has received nearly $725,000 to continue the Illinois Height Modernization Program through the National Geodetic Survey (NGS). This new funding more than doubles the funding received for the initial year of the program.

Nearly every engineered design of structures needs current and accurate elevation data about the immediate site and its surroundings. However, vertical reference benchmarks are scarce, and vertical datums and topographic information are inconsistent throughout Illinois. This lack of consistent data affects all engineering projects, natural resource studies and modeling, and even routine surveying. To accurately and efficiently predict the extent and depth of flooding, coastal erosion, or natural disasters; monitor landscape changes due to artificial improvements; plan for roadway improvements; develop evacuation routes; and minimize environmental impacts, it is critical to have one current, consistent vertical datum on which field surveys and a statewide digital elevation model can be based. An NGS report concluded that "the potential for financial benefits was found to be staggering" for height modernization. Unfortunately, Illinois was ranked in the bottom ten states regarding the quality of its elevation data.

First-year funding supported a survey of available elevation data, including its quality and plans for collecting additional data. A data server was acquired, and a Web site has been developed for the project. The first new, high-quality set of benchmarks are being installed and surveyed; these are being tied into the network Wisconsin developed under the same NGS program. Second-year funding will allow the ISGS to expand on the initial level run, collect digital elevation data through remote sensing, and establish two continuously operating reference points for GPS systems.