The Access in Appalachia Pilot Implementation Project 

Measuring Access to Transportation in the Region

From Our Partners

By Meredith Hill, Deputy Director of Asset Management, MDOT SHA and Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner 

Fig. 1 – Photo showing a transit bus in a a small Appalchian town, courtesy the ARC website.

Rural communities in Appalachia, such as Maryland’s Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties, have long been understood to be some of the most economically challenged in the country. Such communities may have a more difficult time accessing transportation compared to others.

Accessibility in this context refers to the ability of people to reach valued destinations such as work, shopping, education, and recreation via various modes of transportation. Depending on where people work and live, transportation opportunities, whether automobile, public transit, or walking/biking, differ.

A vital measure of a region’s economic health is the ability for workers to get to jobs and conversely, employers having an adequate pool of eligible workers. The ability to measure and evaluate accessibility in communities (by developing reliable sources of data) is a vital first step that can contribute to effective transportation planning and the development of future land use policies that meet community needs. 

To aid the development of transportation access data for Maryland’s western counties, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is partnering with the University of Minnesota, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the Virginia and North Carolina State Departments of Transportation to conduct the Access in Appalachia Pilot Implementation Project. The project is designed to provide enhanced access measures, develop new mapping products, and ensure the consistency of Appalachian datasets with established national datasets.  

The pilot project was initiated with the Accessibility Observatory, a program of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota, which is “the nation’s leading resource of the research and application of accessibility-based transportation system evaluation.”1 The observatory conducts the National Accessibility Evaluation (NAE), a pooled-fund study supported by the departments of transportation (DOTs) of 12 states, one metropolitan organization (MPO), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  

Fig. 2 – Photo showing auto traffic on a bridge through the Appalchian mountains, courtesy the ARC website.

The NAE study, led by the Minnesota DOT, is designed to “implement a measurement of accessibility to jobs across the entire U.S.” Each pooled-fund partner will have digital access to detailed accessibility datasets…[and] annual reports will summarize patterns and trends in accessibility across the country.”2 Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina are long-term participants in and sponsors of the NAE. The program currently measures multimodal job access for the entire U.S. on an annual basis and publishes the Access Across America series of reports.   

About the Pilot Project: 

The tools, methods, and data already in place through the NAE study provide a springboard for refining and expanding accessibility measurement in the Appalachian region. Through this pilot, supported by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) through the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), and in partnership with the Virginia and North Carolina state DOTs, the observatory is using NAE access measures and tools in the Appalachian context. 

Measures that will be evaluated include multimodal access to jobs, healthcare, secondary and postsecondary education, and tourist destinations. Driving access to intermodal freight facilities will also be measured to study the impact of intermodal freight infrastructure on businesses. The table below lists some of the key project tasks, projected timeframes, and deliverables of the pilot project:  

  Project Tasks  Deliverables  
Pilot analysis and mapping tool (May – Aug.22)  Web mapping app using the NAE 2020 data  
Data collection (Aug – Oct. 22)  Destination datasets and GTFS files for the region  
Data processing (Oct. 22 – Feb. 23  Access results and maps  
Data analysis (Feb – Jun. 23)  Aggregated access measures and quantile scoring  
Documentation (Jul-Sept. 23)  Accessibility guide and workshop materials  
Fig. 3 – Table listing some of the key project tasks, projected timeframes, and deliverables of the pilot project.

Progress to date:  

In Task 1, the Observatory developed a web mapping app titled Access to Jobs for the Appalachian Region and Sponsor States3 using jobs access data from NAE 2020. The app allows users to view a heatmap of accessible jobs by travel mode and display the total number of jobs accessible by driving, transit, and biking within a 30-minute service area of a selected location at the census block level. The authors describe it as “the most comprehensible and transparent, as well as the most directly comparable, across cities.”4  

One of the app’s key features can also determine the number of destinations reachable from a census block within a given travel time. Users can zoom in, search for an address, or click any census block to see a detailed breakdown of its accessibility metrics. A future app update will include layers that compare job access among different travel modes.  

Fig. 4 – Screenshot showing a portion of the Appalchain region and the access to jobs by driving on the Access to Jobs web mapping app.

To help measure transportation access for additional non-work destinations, the observatory collected open-source datasets for secondary and post-secondary schools, healthcare facilities (including primary care clinics, trauma centers, and urgent care facilities), entertainment venues, and intermodal freight facilities. These destination datasets were shared with and reviewed by project partners, along with a report, at the end of Task 2.  

The observatory is currently working on Task 3, calculating the project’s proposed multi-destination access measures. Once the methodology is created and new access metrics are calculated, the Observatory researchers will summarize the results so decision makers can assess gaps in transportation infrastructure and identify any needed investments. 

For more information about the Access in Appalachia Pilot Project, please contact the project sponsor, Meredith Hill at MDOT SHA, or principal investigator, Saumya Jain, Researcher, Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota at 


2 Research: Accessibility Observatory | University of Minnesota (

3 Note: MD, VA, and NC are partners of the NAE pooled fund, thus their accessibility data is available for the whole of these states. But not all of MD, VA, and NC states are part of the Appalachia region. Therefore, the map shows accessibility in the Appalachia region and in each of the pooled fund “sponsor” states.

4 Access to Jobs for the Appalachian Region and Sponsor States ( 

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