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Front Page » October 19, 2010 » Carbon County News » Where are you? Your address won't tell
Published 1,815 days ago

Where are you? Your address won't tell

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Sun Advocate Reporter

Granted, Columbus Day honors a guy who didn't really know where he was. But one expert says we may not be not much better off than old Chris. The addresses we've all been using in our towns and county are just about meaningless in terms of telling where we are or how to get there.

And abandon all hope, ye who seek directions to some nameless dirt road out in the desert.

Now Carbon County's chief map maker thinks there's a better way to assign addresses across the county, even in the boonies. It's the centuries-old system of latitude and longitude, declares Ben Clement, manager of the county's Geographic Information Systems operation.

All he has to do is convince the County Commission that he's right and there could be an ordinance making it so. However, commissioners made it clear at their last meeting that they are not inclined to stir up any anxiety with the public, who may not appreciate trying to fix something that doesn't appear to be broken.

So here's Clement's case about what's wrong and how it can be repaired.

In an interview last week, Clement listed some of the obstacles to navigation he comes across every day:

* There are eight - count them - eight different addressing modes in the county. Two grids for the county and one for each of six cities. This doesn't count the Highway Patrol's addressing system, which is mile markers and routes.

* There are a lot of unnamed roads and private roads in the county. Emergency services people could have serious problems if they have to respond to a call at a gas rig or some other unaddressed site outside of the cities.

* Even on named roads, addresses are often meaningless. He knows of one home in Columbia that has four different addresses, one for each utility.

* People whose addresses do not make sense to state voting officials cannot vote - and this is not a potential problem. It's already happening in the county. (The mismatch occurs because of something called "geocoding," and we are not going to address that issue - so to speak - in this article.)

* Since the current addressing system doesn't give any information about how far a building is from the nearest fire station, insurance companies aren't able to determine coverage rates as accurately as they could.

* Title companies need addresses, but addresses can't be assigned without a house.

* Streets in the county do not run perfectly straight all the time. There are cul-de-sacs, U-shaped streets, roads that turn from north-south to east-west. These defy any logical numbering system.

These hassles and others could be eliminated by simply adopting an official addressing system that relies only on two, four-digit numbers, Clement suggests.

"The whole world is already addressed that way," he explains. It has been addressed in terms of degrees north and south of the equator and east or west of the Prime Meridian, and it was addressed that way long before GPS came on the scene.

Here's an example. Price is roughly 39 1/2 degrees north of the equator and 111 degrees west of the Prime Meridian (which runs through Greenwich, England). Getting more precise, the Carbon County Courthouse main entrance is exactly 39.59939628 N and -110.80865872 W.

There's no need for all those digits, though. Four digits are enough to put you in a space 28 by 32 feet, so the courthouse would be 5994 N 8087 W.

From Clement's point of view, that address cannot be confused with any other place on the planet. Not only that, but any place in the trackless desert can have an address. In fact, these places already have addresses and anybody with GPS can tell what they are. You can even have an address for the island in Scofield Reservoir.

You could tell that Wells Fargo Bank is just next door to the courthouse because it would have a slightly smaller west address, or that the Prehistoric Museum is across the street because it would be slightly farther north.

These addresses would be for official and emergency use, Clement says. There would be nothing in the ordinance forcing people to abandon their traditional addresses, but they would have to use the new system for legal purposes such as voter registration.

Street signs could remain in place, but the county should put additional blades on the signposts with the geographic information on them.

As for getting the mail, the county cannot tell the U.S. Postal Service what to do, Clement says. However, the county could request that the USPS adopt this system for mail delivery in the county.

For those who find the proposed system complicated, Clement asks how people would find a street in a strange city. They get out a road map, find the street name on a list, then find out that it is in grid number M9 or something, and then search M9 for the street. Then when you get on the street, which way do you have to go to get to the number you want?

He insists his proposed system would eliminate that hassle.

"Anytime you have to get out a road map or ask directions, your argument is over," he concludes.

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October 19, 2010
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