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In the public eye

Dr. Teller
Faculty and
students from the
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The Federal Highway Administration has awarded the UTEP Department of Civil Engineering a $100,000 grant to implement better ways of presenting transportation projects to the public.

Whether it's a new bridge, school or park, transportation authorities must present their plans at public meetings. With the one-year FHA grant, the civil engineering department hopes to develop guidelines to improve the presentation techniques that rely on communication and visualizations of the proposed projects.

"There are already a few guidelines, but they are developed by engineering agencies with a technical background," said Ruey Long Cheu, associate professor of civil engineering and principal investigator for the project. "We want to look at it from the layperson's point of view."

Because the transportation meetings are always in English, some residents of El Paso may have problems to understand them. With better visuals in terms of video and graphics, Cheu said the public could have an idea of what is being planned.

The El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization is the regional transportation policy-making entity that works with residents, government agencies and transportation providers. Cheu said he and his research staff will attend the public meetings at the MPO and see the current presentation methods.

To build the visualizations, Cheu said, 3D Geographic Information System software will be used.

"It's like Google Earth, except 3D. You can look at buildings," said Cheu, whose expertise is in traffic simulation.

The 3D GIS will also employ two-dimensional visualization and include traffic.

"We want to make (the presentations) more user-friendly," said Nigel G. Ward, associate professor of computer science and collaborator on the project. "It's (currently used) by engineers for engineers."

The two students involved in the project will work in the Border Intermodal Gateway Laboratory in the department of Civil Engineering. "The public approves projects, so the communication of engineers to the public is important," said Marilyn Valdez, research assistant in transportation engineering.

The public can include more than laypersons. "The public can be stakeholders, public officials and the Department of Transportation," said Sirvatsava Kmadata, research assistant in information technology. "It's a great way of translating information to a wider audience.

Cheu said both the public and the transportation authorities, including consultants and Texas DOT engineers would benefit.

"The greatest benefit if the city adopts the recommendations is being able to present the design from a customer's point of view," Cheu said. "A picture really is worth a thousand words."

The impact of the presentation, Cheu said, stretches from transportation planning, highway construction, new roads, to federal and state laws.

"If the public can see what the bridge or highway will look like, how it impacts their lives, their properties, they are able to better communicate their concerns," Cheu said.

MPO will select the project once the research is done.

Jorge Gomez may be reached at

– Jorge Gomez

The Prospector. Citing Internet Resources. [Online] Available, November 04, 2008.