Innovative Public Involvement Fuels Corridor Planning in Texas
US 67 is a major highway and international freight route that starts in rural southwest Texas at the border with Mexico. A 142-mile segment of the road, beginning at the Port of Entry and running north, has experienced increasing traffic in recent years due to growth in population, trade, tourism and oilfield development. As traffic counts have climbed, so too have crashes, causing motorists and residents to raise concerns over safety, access and mobility.
The Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) El Paso District hired CDM Smith to develop a corridor master plan for US 67 to address the safety concerns and potential increases in freight traffic expected along the corridor. The intention for this study was to outline short-, mid- and long-term potential projects to resolve the safety issues and improve travel for the communities along the roadway. Further, the study aligned with TxDOT’s goal to end all fatalities on Texas roadways by 2050.
You can’t really walk 50 people through an intersection, so [using the HoloLens] is a great way to help people understand, ‘Okay what does it look like to put a crosswalk here,’ and sell the ideas to them.
Following the bus tour, the study team prepared for three rounds of public meetings each in Presidio, Alpine and Marfa. TxDOT charged the team with finding a hook to spur strong attendance and participation in these rural communities. CDM Smith’s solution was to incorporate the Microsoft HoloLens, a cutting-edge mixed reality visualization tool, to share design concepts with the public.
Using the HoloLens, residents were able to walk through 3D holographic models of intersection design alternatives that were projected onto the public meeting floor. “The public was able to see some of the improvements we were proposing as if they were built,” said Maddali. “Without spending the money to build anything, and without having to be physically outside in traffic, they were able to look at three or four different options and provide their input, which we recorded and used to build our recommendations.”
Most people coming off the street had never heard of mixed reality, but you could see that it had an immediate impact on their understanding of the proposals.
At the start of the planning process, the team took an 8-hour bus tour of the entire 142-mile study corridor with county judges, mayors and government staff from the local communities to improve their understanding of local needs and pain points along the road.