News Column

Google Earth Offers New View of Transit Projects

March 20, 2013

Garrison Wells, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Residents of the Pikes Peak area in Colorado who want an early glimpse of major transportation projects in the county can get a 3D look with a couple of clicks.

The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments gave a demonstration Tuesday on how to use Google Earth to visually explain the often complicated design of transportation projects such as interchanges, lane expansions and other road projects.

There's a batch of them going on in El Paso County, from the widening of Interstate 25 from Woodmen Road to Monument to a proposal for a new interchange at Highway 24 and I-25 that appears to be close to getting state funds.

What the council's imbedded Google Earth does on its home page is allow residents to see projects as well as the factors that influenced decisions on the project.

"We're a visual species," said Craig Casper, the council's transportation director who paved the way for the project. "If we show it visually, it's 1,000 times more understandable."

It has the feel of a computer game with live, moving parts. With the flyover, people start with a bird's eye view, then swoop down to get a closer view of the project.

The site also includes a look at the region in general, from socioeconomic characteristics to traffic congestion hotspots and demographics.

For instance, check the low-income box and a 3D map of low-income areas pops up. People can also see floodplains and even homes where residents live who do not own cars.

Viewers "get to see what we saw before we made decisions," Casper said.

"What this does is it goes into the living room," he said. "People can see what they want, how they want, as long as they want. It's transparent. It's interactive."

Benjamin Lollar, north program engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation, called the site a great tool for communicating with the public.

"The transparency is important," he said.

Another fan is Woodland Park Mayor David Turley, who noted the site will help dispel rumors that can arise when projects are created.

"It helps take away rumor-ville," he said.

Casper added that the site could help save money, since the single biggest cost increase of transportation projects comes from delays triggered by lack of public awareness.

The council's Google Earth project took about two years to complete, Casper said. Total cost was about $18,000, most of which was paid for by grants. College interns were used to develop the models.

The council, Casper said, is on the leading edge of such technology. In January, he presented the concept to the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C.

"We got very positive feedback that this is the future of communicating with the public," he said.

Source: (c)2013 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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