What Does a Topographic Survey Entail and Why Is It Important

Topographic Map 618066732 size

What Does a Topographic Survey Entail and Why Is It Important?

Before you begin a construction or engineering project, you must fully understand the land’s topography. Depending on the specific parcel, there may be man-made and/or natural features that impact what you can build and how you go about construction.

This is why topographic surveys are often the first step of the civil engineering design process.

But what does a topographic survey entail? And why does it matter?

Let’s discuss.

What Does a Topographic Survey Entail?

Topographic surveys, also known as contour surveys, leverage advanced GPS technologies to map out a land parcel’s natural and man-made features and terrain.

The duration of the process depends on the complexity of the terrain and the size of the area that will be surveyed, as well as whether the project entails urban or rural development. That said, it may take days, weeks, or even months to complete.

There are several types of survey services, including Aerial Mapping/Photogrammetry, Topographic Surveys, Utility Surveys, and Wetlands Surveys, to name a few. What the process entails depends on the specific type of survey; however, general steps include:

  • Gathering the relevant information about the area

  • Outlining the time schedule

  • Estimating a cost

  • Processing data

  • Preparing final survey output

  • Delivering the final survey output

After the survey is complete, you receive a digital 3-dimensional rendering that displays features that may affect construction, such as boundary lines, buildings and structures, trees and vegetation, water channels, ground heights and contours, and drainage features.

Why Do Topographic Surveys Matter?

There are several reasons why it’s important to perform a topographic survey. These include:

  • Regulatory requirements – A topographic survey is a common requirement for the following civil engineering design and construction projects:
    • New construction

    • Utility design

    • Road or bridge projects

    • Remodeling existing structures

    • Grading or drainage projects

  • Developing codes and regulations – For government agencies, topographic surveys enable them to understand a certain area and then set safety or environmental standards for building on that land.

  • Natural land utilization – Topical surveys make it easier to plan out how you will incorporate features that take advantage of and fit in seamlessly with the natural landscape.

  • Accurate data – These surveys provide a wealth of information about a property that engineers, architects, and contractors can use to map out their projects and see what is or isn’t feasible. With this information, you can make informed decisions prior to breaking ground.

  • Past details – A contour survey also provides insights into how the land has changed or been altered in the past. Many of these changes may have occurred decades ago and be hidden from plain sight.

  • Right-of-way acquisition (RoWA) – If you make a RoWA, the property’s topographic features dictate how the land can be used. Prior to making a purchase, a topographic survey would let you know whether the parcel was fit for construction and worth investing in.

Land Surveying With MFS Engineering

Before you ever break ground, you need total visibility over the land you’re working with. Topographic surveys provide the data and actionable insights you need to perform a build as safely, efficiently, and economically as possible.

At MFS Engineers & Surveyors, we offer professional land surveying services to private and public entities throughout NY and NJ. We’ve conducted surveys for land developers as well as the regions’ federal, bi-state, state, and city agencies, covering an array of infrastructure and real estate projects.

Want to discover more about our topographic survey services? Contact us today!