Assessment of Project Visualization Software Tools and How they are Used by DOTs

Focus Area

Context Sensitive Solutions


Community & Cultural Concerns, Environmental Process




Under $99k



Research Idea Scope

Project development depends on good communication among the public, planners, and project development teams. Technical design drawings and maps have limited value when a project requries communication with non-engineers and the public.  Visualization software is recognized as a way to bridge the gap between project designers and non-technical audiences. The objective of this project is to review visualization tools available to DOTs and evaluate the relative effectiveness of different options in relation to DOT communication needs.  For each tool surveyed, the report should evaluate its effectiveness in terms of:

• Cost per unit,

• Stakeholder response and acceptance,

• Analysis of effective venues, and

• Recommended visualization tool selection process.

TERI Administrator Note (June 2007): Related Research

NCHRP Synthesis Project 361, Visualization for Project Development (2006)

Abstract: This synthesis presents information on visualization; the visual representation of proposed alternatives and improvements and their associated effects on the existing surroundings. It focuses on the best practices and experiences to date within transportation agencies that are developing and incorporating visualization into the project development process. The report provides an overview, details case studies, addresses the challenges of visualization, and compares the results with a similar study from 1996. This synthesis report was developed by conducting interviews with various transportation agencies, universities, and consultants throughout the United States. A survey questionnaire was distributed in advance of the interviews to assist in the preparation.

Effective Visualization Techniques for the Public Presentation of Transportation Projects, University of Connecticut, New England Transportation Consortium, (2005)

The purpose of this project was to look at ways to develop more coherent and effective approaches for presenting transportation projects to the public. A detailed review of recent research on visual perception and visualization was conducted. The authors also conducted site visits to two consulting firms and one state DOT. In addition to field trips, they conducted mail-in surveys to the six New England DOTs and compared their survey results to a previous nationwide survey conducted in 1998. The result of the study showed that image composite continues to be the most popular visualization technique used in both DOTs and consulting firms. Animation, which is the most effective visualization technique, is expected to be used more frequently as the cost and time of production are reduced. The authors also found that visualization techniques are mainly used in the public involvement process in the New England DOTs; they are rarely used in design and design development. The authors expect that this will change as Context Sensitive Design takes hold in the DOTs. As this occurs, they expect that visualization will be more frequently incorporated, not only in the public involvement stage, but also at all stages of design. Because transportation design and public involvement are parallel processes, DOTs will find that the usage of visualization in design will be invaluable in helping transportation designers evaluate and refine their design.

Urgency and Payoff

The variation in cost and effectiveness of  available visualization tools is not well understood. State and local transportation agencies would benefit from a study of visualization tools, their relative costs, and their effectiveness in facilitating transportation planning, project programming, and design.

Suggested By

Transportation Research Board 2002 Environmental Research Needs Conference Notes

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