50 Ways 3D Visualization Can Help Your Transportation or Civil Project

As the cost for quality 3D visualization for transportation and civil projects has gone down in the past decade, the use cases and benefits for this powerful form of communication have grown as well. I’ve compiled this list of 50 different ways visualization can help your project, many of which I’ve seen first hand as I have focused my career completely on 3D visualization over the past several years.

I’ve done my best to group these into sections so that you can quickly see the ways that pertain most to your own industry. I’ve also done my best to not be redundant, but I don’t think I was 100% successful.


  1. Alternative analysis

From the earliest stages of a project, stakeholders need to understand and grasp the concepts and alternatives available. Visualization can quickly and clearly explain several alternatives to anyone with a vested interested in the project.

  1. Communication to all stakeholders

While design and other technical documents are typically created for engineering or construction personnel, visualization is created for everyone with any background and communicates complicated designs in the simplest terms so that anyone can understand from the public to financial, legal and political team members.

  1. Presentation for funding requests

Transportation and other civil engineering projects are typically in the millions of dollars- sometimes even in the hundreds of millions or billions- so the stakes are extremely high. Showing early concepts or alternatives to request funding with clear 3D visualization can quickly communicate the concept while lowering the risk of misunderstandings.

  1. Public feedback

Certain stages of projects often involve public feedback. Having a simple image or video rendering can change the public involvement in the project from enemy to ally.

  1. Stakeholder input

In planning stages, stakeholders from a wide variety of disciplines are able to give feedback. Having a large printout of a concept rendering on hand at the meeting can allow all involved to quickly point and explain their own vision for the project with as little imagination required as possible.

  1. Long term planning

Large projects are often broken down into several phases over many years. Several printouts of a good 3D visualization or even a phasing animation can show this process clearly, even if it is over a period of decades.

Public Outreach

  1. Local news segments

Projects usually affect many lives and creating a 3D visualization animation for use on local TV stations is one of the easiest ways to get the word out about what the project is and who it will affect. It is not uncommon for a TV station to use a good video render many times before the project is completed.

  1. Public meetings

Meetings open to the public are critical for project managers to clearly communicate the scope and vision of any projects, especially large ones. A TV or laptop with a looping animation of the project will go a longer way than a aerial printout of CAD drawings as has been common in past years and decades.

  1. Brochures

Projects affecting millions or spanning several jurisdictions can sometimes have a marketing specifically assigned for public outreach. A simple brochure with 3D visualization showing how the project will look when completed can be handy as something tangible for the public and stakeholders to take and study later.

  1. Driver familiarity

Transportation projects almost always alter the commutes of locals. A ‘drive through’ animation showing what the new commute will look like (sometimes even with construction phasing) can ease commuter anxiety about potential disruptions.

  1. ‘View from my backyard’

Sometimes individuals are interested in how the project will affect them personally, even to the point of knowing how it will change the view from their home. A carefully created 3D model used in visualization can allow a project manager to quickly place a camera at any location and show how a project will alter the view for the public or even commercial properties.

  1. Right of Way/ property boundaries

‘How close will this project come to my property boundaries?’ This is a common question for anyone impacted by a project. Visualization makes it possible for ‘virtual fences’ to be created showing where one property boundary or right of way line ends and another begins.

  1. Site posters

When a project goes under construction fences and other barriers often need to be erected for safety purposes. These can also serve as a great place for a large poster to be placed showing what the project will look like when completed.

  1. Website visuals

It is becoming more common for large projects to have a dedicated website to communicate vision and progress. This is one of the best places for 3D visualization as any number of pictures or videos can be added throughout the site.

  1. Before/after comparison

Even before projects are completed, politicians and other stakeholders are clamoring to show how much the project has improved the site. A project render can show this contrast even before the ground is broken.

  1. Increased public excitement and engagement

Visualization makes it easier for the public to catch the vision of projects. It can also help bridge the long gap that exists between the ground breaking and completion which is occupied by sometimes frustrating construction. If 3D visualization is involved from conception to completion, the project stands a much better chance at seeing increased public excitement and engagement.

Design Phase

  1. Line of sight

Line of site is an important part of transportation design and 3D visualization can help this process evolve from cutting 2D cross sections to allowing you to see exactly what a driver will see from anywhere on the project, almost instantly.

  1. Aesthetics

Ensuring that a project ‘looks good’ isn’t only desirable, sometimes it is required with a certain portion of the budget set aside specifically for aesthetics. This can affect many involved in the design of the project from roadway designers to landscape architects. Visualization makes aesthetics much easier to envision and coordination.

  1. Scenic view study

Transportation projects occasionally include a specific area designated as a ‘scenic view’. 3D visualization can help choose the optimal location for scenic views and also show what it will look like when completed. This is especially helpful for areas that currently aren’t accessible such as deep within a hill that will later be cut for a portion of the roadway.

  1. Utility conflict

A conflict between the project and an existing utility (especially if it is a high pressure gas line or water main) can make or break a project budget. Being prepared for meeting with the utility company with a simple animation can quickly communicate the issue so that alternatives can be discussed without confusion or misunderstanding.

  1. Solar/shade studies

Projects not only change commutes and views, projects can also change where the sun shines and where it does not. Doing a solar study can show where these changes occur and how they may or may not affect those within or near the project boundaries.

  1. Bridge aesthetics

Bridges are one of the most important category of any project as they require a significant portion of the budget in design and construction. Trying different materials, designs and even artistic detailing with 3D visualization can ensure that the right option is chosen for the given project location and budget.

  1. Sign placement

Many factors can affect where a sign is placed including structure locations, clear zone distances and vegetation. Visualization can help this process by visually checking where the best locations for sign placement might be, especially for major signs.

  1. Marquee location

Transportation projects often include large ‘marquee’ signs welcoming visitors to cities or other key locations (such as the ‘Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada’ sign where I am). Creating an accurate 3D model can ensure the right location is picked and the stakeholders give their approval before anything is actually constructed.

  1. Aesthetic integration with existing conditions

Aesthetic considerations and artistic detailing from decades past can clash against newer, more modern designs. A photo-match render can give a quick comparison of what the new design will look like among the existing aesthetic detailing.

  1. Pedestrian experience

Much attention is given in transportation projects to driver experience but pedestrians are often affected equally by a redesign. Showing projects with pedestrians on and around the location as well as renders from pedestrian perspective can increase the excitement and engagement from those that aren’t always around the site in a car. This goes for bicyclists as well which is a growing segment of the commuter demographic.


  1. Crash reconstruction

When a case involves an intersection, interchange or other roadway element, 3D visualization can give the proper context for what actually happened. Some crash reconstructions also involve complicated computer simulations that involve physics calculations. These visuals can be powerful for the defence or prosecution side.

  1. Expert witness supplementals

Large projects often require in-depth legal battles that eventually involve expert witnesses. These individuals give their technical opinion based on years of education and experience. Having 3D visuals in the reports they generate demonstrating otherwise complicated concepts can be an effective way to explain these technical details to the legal team in ways that textbooks and equations otherwise could not.

  1. Court case exhibits

Jurys are comprised of individuals from all walks of life. Clear visuals created from design and as-built documents is the best way to communicate complicated designs to a panel as divers as the typical jury.

  1. Right of way cases 

Transportation projects often require imminent domain which involves the government purchasing land for use in the project limits. These type of cases are ideal for 3D visualization as they can clearly show how the site is now, will be in the future or even would have been if something had been different.

  1. Drivers experience 

A legal time is sometimes obligated to attempt to get the jury to see something as if they were there. A ‘drive through’ video demonstrating how the project will (or could) look can quickly allow the jury to feel as if they were actually there.

  1. Failure simulation 

Sometimes civil legal cases involve failure on a large scale including bridge collapse, retaining wall failure or dam malfunction. An animation detailing how this may have occurred can allow the jury and judge to visualize just how the breakdown happened.

  1. Financial analysis 

Sometimes the legal team involves financial personnel that need to evaluate the case in monetary terms. These individuals can make more accurate decisions more quickly if they can understand the project from all perspectives, including what it may look like in the future.

  1. Legal team coordination 

A legal team can consist of attorneys, expert witnesses, defendants, public servants and others. Making 3D visualization part of the case from the very beginning will help ensure that the team stays on the same page, even if the case is dynamic and ever-changing.


  1. Winning work 

Contractors know that the difference in winning and not winning a job can sometimes require creative approaches in their proposals. It seems more and more common that contractors are having construction phasing animations or project renders created for the specific purpose of winning work and it is likely that this trend will only continue.

  1. Construction phasing 

Construction phasing animations can help contractors win work and also help in the management of the project. A meeting with a five minute video showing the project sequencing will much more quickly demonstrate the process than a two hour meeting breaking down a detailed Gantt chart.

  1. Construction animation 

Showing all or parts of the construction project in animation form can clearly show sometimes confusing concepts. For example, creating a short video showing proper installation of soil nail walls can make sure that the new staff understand the concept before work begins.

  1. Safety videos 

Showing how and why safety procedures are in place can be demonstrated using 3D visualization either in general or for a specific project. These can sometimes be done quicker and more cheaply than actor created videos, depending on the use case.

  1. Public outreach 

Contractors are often under the obligation to communicate project progress to the public. This is typically done through media personnel, websites or statements. Clear 3D visualization can make this a much easier process.

  1. Project coordination 

Project managers, engineers, workers, operators and sometimes hundreds of individuals need to be on the same page on a construction project. Gantt charts and meetings are the most common approach to solving this problem, but 3D visualization including animation can assist this approach.

  1. Advertisements 

When a contractor successfully completes a job it is sometimes difficult to demonstrate why they were the right company for the job. A project render or 3D animation can demonstrate the unique techniques that they used and these types of media can also be used for advertisements in general on their website and other trade publications.

  1. Vendor to contractor communication 

Many of the elements put into place on a construction project are created by a specialty vendor. These companies can demonstrate the usefulness or benefits of their product by creating 3D visualization diagrams and visuals. This can be everything from a new traffic signal design to a clever MSE wall panel.

  1. Traffic control phasing 

Most transportation projects require some sort of traffic control. This can be one of the most frustrating parts of a project, especially from the perspective of the public. A traffic control animation can prepare commuters and resolve misconceptions about the project.

  1. Utility discovery 

Construction accidents involving utilities cost billions each year but can be mitigated with accurate 3D modeling and visualization based on as-builts, CAD files or even below ground scans. Some construction equipment now even has the ability to utilize 3D models built-in.

Education and Research

  1. School presentation 

Students in both undergraduate and graduate programs can utilize 3D visualization to demonstrate semester projects in presentations. Personally, presentations using 3D visualization was the way I was first introduced to and intrigued by the concept of explaining civil engineering concepts visually through 3D modeling.

  1. Visuals for research paper 

Research papers tend to be very technical but a well placed visual demonstrating the concept using 3D modeling can quickly describe an otherwise complicated concept.

  1. Student education 

Universities or professors can (and now, often do) utilize 3D visualization to explain concepts to students. This can include everything from a simple bending moment diagram in a text book to a complex earthquake simulation using the latest hardware and software.

  1. Employee training 

Contractors, consulting firms or public agencies can use 3D visualization to demonstrate engineering and design concepts quickly and clearly and can be used indefinitely and interactively in ways one-on-one training or meetings cannot.

  1. Demonstrating alternative intersections with 3D traffic simulation 

Intersections or interchanges with unique designs or traffic flows can see tremendous benefits from an animation showing the traffic control phasing. Experts in 3D visualization can even integrate the animation with actual traffic modeling data (such as Vissim or Synchro) so each car in the video represent actually simulated vehicles.

  1. Visuals for trade publications 

Print or online publications in the AEC (architectural, engineering and construction) industry often share interesting articles or project case studies, all of which can benefit from well placed 3D visualization.

About Civil FX

I am passionate about visualizing civil engineering design in 3D and have been so now for many years. This subject is the perfect intersection of my education and experience as a licensed civil engineer with my passion for video games and special effects. I recently started Civil FX Studios so that I could provide 3D visualization services full time, specifically in transportation, construction and legal cases involving transportation cases. For more information about how you can learn 3D visualization yourself or benefit from the services we provide, feel free to email me personally.

-Sam Lytle