This is an exclusive HIRSC Team editorial post as we take a behind-the-scenes look and sit down and meet with the creator of the now widely used Island of Hawai'i Mile Markers Map.
Published By: HIRSC - Hawai'i Island (Hōlualoa) and O'ahu (Waipi'o/Waipahu) Team
In this exclusive HIRSC editorial post where we take the time to sit down and talk with our very own HIRSC - Administrator and Founder Benjamin Agdeppa and learn more about what inspired him to make the now very popular Island of Hawai'i Mile Marker Map and other islands' mile marker map. We get to see what Ben does to make these maps what it is today and future plans.
(An original post was made back in March 2021, however, with a lot of changes and additions made in the last year or two, we felt it was time to catch back up with Ben and hear about the exciting new changes since the first article.)
So the age-old question that always arose on social media and on forums came up for years was "where can I find a map that specifically has the mile markers for the Island of Hawai'i?" That answer was to rely on Google Maps and with a little luck, find out roughly where the mile marker is.
With that question always getting unanswered, that's when HIRSC Team's very own Administrator and Founder Benjamin Agdeppa undertook the task of creating a map that would specifically help answer that question that always came up.
Answering the age-old question
"For me, when I constantly came across that same question being asked on social media and message boards, I thought to myself, okay this looks fairly easy to complete with just working with layering things together. However, I later realized that this would be one of the daunting and longest projects I would undertake in many years" Ben says.
So in mid-February of 2018, began the mile marker map project and first started with an inquiry to the State of Hawai'i Department of Transportation (HDOT), moments after that inquiry went out, HDOT sent an updated GIS file of mile marker data for the entire state. That would be the foundation for the mile marker map. "At first, I thought, okay this will be simple and easy to get done in less than one day on Google Maps. However, later on, during the first night, I realized that this would require a lot of planning, but also a lot of hard work and time to map it to what imagined it to be" Ben says.
After a few days of planning and drawing up many layouts, this officially began the work on the Island of Hawai'i Mile Marker Map. The process of making this map according to Ben was "very time-consuming" due to the complexity of the many things. Ben says "one of the most complex things that made this map stressful to make was mile markers themselves. While there are photos of the mile markers, to find the specific graphics took roughly half a night to find. I had to find exactly 122 since one highway (Highway 11) was exactly 122 miles long (which is fronting the old Borders Books and Music, now Planet Fitness on Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway). Once I found that the process became a lot smoother and it was a matter of every 1,2,3,4,5, etc., and going from there. That process took me roughly, 14 sleepless nights."
If you thought finding each mile marker graphic was hard, it was even harder to find a half-mile marker online and that's where Ben spent many hours more creating each half-mile marker for every route on the island.
Ben said "What a lot of people don't know, I did a lot of research into the federal standards into mile marker sign design. Then use those standards to make the template of the mile marker you see on the map today. I also did a lot of detailed work on the traffic signals and signs to make them match federal standards as well. Pretty everything from spacing, color codes, border sized was looked at to make them somewhat close to scale." The half-mile-marker process took Ben about 3-4 hours in one night and then about another 4 hours applying it to the map in the same night.
That same process also applied to public facilities (i.e. fire, police, hospitals, etc.) landmarks, or special interest points as well. "Creating those icons as well was a bit of a challenge to find the right graphic to match and make it fit well on the map. It took a lot of trial and error to get the sizing right" Ben says. "Once I got it to the right specifications, pushing it to the map took roughly 4-5 days to complete."
In all, the time it took Ben to complete the original format of the first-mile marker map took roughly 1-1/2 months to 2 months.
How Ben Keeps the Map Up-to-Date (Back Then and Now)
So many of you are wondering, how does Ben have time to make changes and add or fix it on the map? Well here's how he does it: "As a part of my full-time job outside of the HIRSC Team, I have to drive the entire Island of Hawai'i and also travel to other islands as well very often now, and driving a lot of these different places gives me the opportunity to see changes on our roadways, so it was pretty much straightforward to add new things I've personally seen to the map and apply them to the map when I have free time." Another thing that helped was making a note in a journal of the different landmarks and approximate mile marker locations.
"I carry the journal with me in the vehicle I drive at all times and as soon I get to a stop, immediately note down the changes or additions needed to make, and once I get back to my computer, add it onto the map, probably within that same day. There are also notes on my own phone also on changes needed to make, the list is so long that I printed it out one day, it came out to over 12 pages, all notes from as early as the very beginning of the project."
That was back in 2020, now in 2022, Ben switched the maps over to a new application that allows him to apply changes in the field using his laptop or iPhone. "The day I made the switch from an online map-based system to a standalone system, making the necessary edits can happen within a matter of hours versus several weeks. I literally can make changes to the map sitting down at a table at a restaurant on the Island of Hawai'i and it'll be visible within a few hours." Ben says.
"I made the switch from solely being on Google My Maps platform to ArcGIS Earth in late 2020, 2021 after doing a trial run of the software on my laptop and on my phone, I saw it as an added advantage to help with keeping the map up to date since I would be able to add the pins and details of the addition or change needed while on the road, this was a much better switch versus keeping a notebook and pen on hand, there have been times I forget to bring them with me, at least I know I wouldn't forget it."
Becoming a Major Asset
Since the first release of the mile marker map for Hawai'i Island was made public back in March 2018, it has become a major asset within Hawai'i Island and also to the HIRSC Team when it comes to giving not only directions but also noting down where an incident had occurred in our information updates given or heard. Based on statistics pulled up by Ben, the map has been viewed over 116,000 times since its first release in 2018, and users from all over the world have used or viewed it over the last 4 years.
The Island of Hawai'i map has become so popular that many fields including our very first responders, business owners, visitors, and surveyors have used this map on numerous occasions. "From my understanding, it has become so popular that Google's own SEO, that it will now show up on Google when you search for the map. Just a few days before meeting with the team for this interview, I got an email from a dispatcher trainee saying they found my map from a classmate and said it was a very huge help with getting oriented with the island better" Ben says. "So it comes to show that all levels of the community are utilizing the map in a very useful way," he said.
"A few days ago, I walked into a business in Kailua Village and saw a screenshot photo of my map with a QR Code to get it to your phone. It really surprised me how much it became an asset to many. I personally didn't expect something like this to take off like wildfire in a matter of months or even the course of 4 years and all I can say to everyone who sends me emails/messages on a weekly basis is just thank you, thank you," Ben says
Because of the popularity of the Island of Hawai'i map, Ben has received multiple requests and demands to create similar maps for the Islands of Maui County (Maui Nui), O'ahu, and Kaua'i that go as far back as late 2019. Well after much anticipation and debate, Ben decided to pull that trigger and start the race to get a similar map made for Maui County (Maui Nui), O'ahu, and Kaua'i in the Spring of 2021. These projects had a very bold estimated completion timeline of one and half month turnaround time.
"The first map I started in my expansion plan, I decided to start with Maui Nui, since I knew that would be a challenge being a tri-island set up," Ben said. And well after 5 days of hard work and effort in late March, Ben completed the project on March 26th, 2021.
Ben says "I want to say by far this was one of the most difficult projects I have worked on since completing the Island of Hawai'i Mile Marker Map and took many sleepless nights to get this finally completed in under one week time. I believe this is the first map of its kind for the Islands of Maui County to be made and I've seen many emails and request come into my email requesting for me to make one for Maui since 2018 when I released the Island of Hawai'i map. I've personally could not find one such map online or anywhere."
Once the Islands of Maui County (Maui Nui) were completed, Ben moved on to the Islands of O'ahu and Kaua'i. What sped up the process was the fact that data included statewide mile marker information and also graphics he had on hand were easily accessible to edit or change to the appropriate routes as needed.
Overall it took Ben a total of 1-1/2 months to complete O'ahu and Kaua'i maps.
"I do want to give a lot of credit also to my HIRSC Team Members on Maui, O'ahu, and Kaua'i for helping me verify the information as well, I couldn't get this map done in a timely matter without them since being on the Island of Hawaii and tied up with personal commitments or events planned," Ben says.
The Future Plans for All Maps
We asked Ben what are some of his future plans for all the mile marker maps and he said "Eventually want to mimic what I have done for the Island of Hawai'i map and expanded on a whole new level."
Some of the plans Ben outlined are as follows:
Travel to all islands to physically drive all routes and correct any information necessary. (IN PROGRESS - NO ETA FOR COMPLETION/OPEN DATE)
Adding ahupua'a (land division) and moku (district) information to all mile markers on all islands maps
Updating all graphics to be uniform with the Island of Hawai'i Map
Correcting names appropriately
Syncing all maps to new software (IN PROGRESS - ETA COMPLETION END OF OCTOBER 2022)
One plan that Ben highlighted was to roll out a standalone app with all island's mile marker maps and data in place for everyone to easily access with just the download of an app on a smartphone. However, Ben says "There are a lot of challenges with getting an app of this magnitude up and running, especially the amount of data it needs to handle. While it is on my list of future expansions, right now my main focus is to get everything to where it needs to be first, that way when I do roll out the app, everything will be up-to-date." He says he doesn't expect to come to the testing phase for at least another few years or so, not as a high priority at this time.
Editor Note to Ben
Ben, I am pretty sure you hear this a lot from others and we are going to say it once again, on behalf of the entire HIRSC Team and also community members from the Islands of Maui Nui, O'ahu, and Kaua'i, we would like to say mahalo (or thank you) for your continued efforts behind the scenes for providing such a valuable asset to the community over the past years, this credit is not only for the maps but also for continuing to providing the communities with HIRSC media pages over the past 5 years and counting.
We do also want to thank you Ben for your continued hard work and efforts behind the scenes for maintaining everything and spending countless hours of your time making virtually anything possible.
So Mahalo Plenty, Ben.
From the entire team here at HIRSC.