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Visualization for Right-of-Way Acquisition

1. Introduction

This research explores the ways that select State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) have used visualization technologies and applications to facilitate the right-of-way (ROW) acquisition process. Best practice applications of visualization given certain ROW acquisition situations are identified, along with effective strategies for seamlessly incorporating visualization into the ROW acquisition process. Transportation officials will be able to use this information to improve and facilitate their own transportation ROW acquisition processes and outcomes.

1.1 Background

In 2006, FHWA conducted a domestic scan on right-of-way (ROW) acquisition and utility relocation. During the scan, FHWA learned that a few state DOTs were beginning to test the idea that visualization could be a valuable tool to use in the ROW acquisition process. Specifically, Florida DOT (FDOT) showed examples of where it had overlaid aerial photographs with computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, and Minnesota DOT (Mn/DOT) had used three-dimensional (3-D) videos to show property owners the potential impacts of highway improvements to surrounding properties (Cambridge Systematics 2006). Two years later during an international scan of ROW practices, FHWA identified similar applications of visualization at transportation agencies in Australia (FHWA 2008). There, visualization was used to communicate a project's ROW requirements and impacts to property owners and relevant stakeholders to help avoid or mitigate the costs of eminent domain court proceedings.

Based on these examples, as well as a growing belief that there are significant benefits to using visualization techniques in the ROW acquisition process, in 2009 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) surveyed all state DOTs to elicit basic information about their experiences using visualization to facilitate ROW acquisition.1 The responses indicated that the use of visualization technologies for ROW acquisition purposes is currently much less prevalent than its use in other areas of highway project delivery.2 With that said, some of the respondents mentioned they could foresee advantages of expanding visualization's use to the ROW acquisition practice, and most were interested in learning more about what their peers had been doing in this area.

1.2 Purpose and Methodology

This report is intended to identify and disseminate information about the pros and cons of utilizing visualization for ROW acquisition, as well as potentially effective practices for doing so. The research is based on phone discussions3 with transportation agency stakeholders who indicated previous experience with using visualization for ROW acquisition. Several consultants with experience developing visualizations for transportation agencies were also contacted for their input; they were selected based on information and suggestions gathered from the FHWA and the DOT interviewees. Phone discussions were held from May through June 2010 and included both ROW and visualization professionals from:

Questions focused on the history of visualization use at the agency, the benefits—perceived or real—of doing so, and barriers associated with more fully using visualization for ROW acquisition, among other topics.4 Where possible, the project team collected quantitative data on the costs and savings associated with using visualization for ROW acquisition. Property owners were not interviewed for this research.

Additional information on the uses of visualization was obtained through a review of literature and documentation collected from interviewees, other state DOTs, and several visualization vendors throughout the research process. The project team then synthesized phone discussion notes and relevant supplemental information collected to formulate the challenges, lessons, and recommendations described below. The report results should inform the development of guidelines for how DOTs and other transportation agencies can incorporate visualization into the ROW acquisition process.

Example Visualizations:

Choosing Visualization for Transportation

Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division Design's visualization website

Florida DOT Casselberry Interchange Visualization

Mn/DOT Visualization Services

NCDOT's Enterprise Visualization website

NCDOT Example Visualizations

NYSDOT's Project Visualizations for the I-87 Exit 6 Bridge Replacement

TRB's Visualization in Transportation Committee website

1 For these purposes, "ROW" refers to the land a roadway and any related facilities occupy.

2 See Appendix E for the AASHTO survey and responses received.

3 A list of stakeholders interviewed is included in Appendix A. The calls followed the discussion guide included in Appendix B. The project team tailored the discussion guide to each participating stakeholder, as appropriate.

4 See Appendix B for the complete phone discussion guide.

Updated: 10/20/2015
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