Environmental Impact – Calculating and visualising environmental impact for highways design using spatial data and 3D innovation

3D visualisation of highway route options in Autodesk InfraWorks — CartoConsult stock image
3D visualisation of highway route options in Autodesk InfraWorks — CartoConsult stock image

Its been a while……

This really is a brain-dump from a recent project. We hope it gives a great insight in how CartoConsult uses technology and innovation to give fantastic project results, and also visualise those results. Future blogs will be a little more specific, and probably much shorter (we hope)!

The Challenge

This was a large highways infrastructure upgrade project. The project extent was set in a tourist and environmentally sensitive area. The challenge for the highways designers and planners was to develop 4 route options that addressed various transport issues and had to take the following issues in to consideration:

  • Environmental impact
  • Ground investigation
  • Traffic impact
  • Economic assessment
  • Value for money

A huge challenge for the project team who would need so many questions answering. So how did we go about answering and communicating the issues? With GIS of course!


The key to any GIS and reporting accurately, is by using reliable data from reliable sources. These sources can be recognised institutes and governing bodies, or capturing your very own reliable data from desktop studies to field visits. The project had a team of ecologists that undertook a series of studies, from Phase 1 Habitats to protected species surveys. All this data was captured using handheld rugged tablets with GIS software to ensure data was collected accurately, timely and with no duplication when uploaded to the office.

All the data was uploaded to a ‘Geodatabase’ (GDB) for central management and administration. This would ensure security, integrity of the data and to eliminate duplication of datasets.

Spatial analysis

In order to reliably report environmental impact for each route, 2D CAD highway designs needed to be added to the GDB. The designs would hold alignment, centre lines, kerb lines and earthworks. What we were really interested in were the earthworks data. This earthworks vector data had its topology cleaned, and then converted to a polygon.

Now we had all our environmental data and highways design options, we were able to intersect the datasets together. This provided an output of only those environmental areas that would potentially lie within the earthworks, and therefore be impacted upon by the construction of the upgrade.

By the project team providing great data, we were able to quickly calculate reliable spatial analysis results using GIS geoprocessing tools. The outputs would be new datasets for each route and itemised spreadsheets that would inform the client of the area statistics, type/description and location of the habitat (or any other data in the input files)that would be impacted by the works for each route option. This will help the client form mitigation plans for the environmental by the highway upgrade.


Of course, spreadsheets were great for the statisticians, but how about the rest of the stakeholders that would like to input to the project to ensure its success?

A spreadsheet really was not going to cut it. Many of the private investors and members of the potentially affected by the upgrade would need to be engaged into what was going to happen, potentially.

CartoConsult created 2D colourful maps to show the new output data from the geoprocessing tools. These maps would have the route options, community facilities and environmental data as layers, and also background mapping of the local area to bring this all into context.

A webGIS portal for the project was developed, allowing stakeholders to keep up-to-date with the latest data and be able to turn layers on/off zoom and pan to view data in more detail and view data that affected them more directly.

A 3D GIS model was also produced using Autodesk InfraWorks (see image above). This was a visual aid of the route options and environmental data captured on the project. The project team would use the model throughout the lifecycle of the project to help them write their reports and reliably the inform the client. Highway designers could also created preliminary designs to see ‘live’ their impact of the existing environment and infrastructure. From the model, animations and snapshots were produced for communication at consultation events and over YouTube. The 3D model was extremely well received, to the point that the client has now made this a standard for all their projects and for CartoConsult to inform and support other consultants in the production of 3D models for future schemes.

Verified photomontage views were created using the InfraWorks model and point cloud laser survey data that was captured at the beginning of the project. Using the point cloud data and the 3D model streamlined our workflow and saved time and money in commissioning surveyors to accompany us on site to take the view point photographs.


Well, as you can see from the above, the project was a great success. GIS underpinned the project from start to finish, saved time/money, engaged stakeholders and most importantly enabled route option decisions ready for the detailed design stage with reliable data. The preliminary design 3D model does not end there, the next stage will see detailed design. The designers will be able to export out from the InfraWorks model to their preferred civil design software, add the detail and then upload back to the model for more animation production ready to continue the engagement on the project.

The only thing missing, CyberCity3D.com smart buildings. CartoConsult will be using their 3D buildings on the next project to increase data accuracy and to produce accurate line-of-sight and visual impact analysis as well as adding professionalism to the 3D model perception.

CyberCity3D Inc. Smart  3D GIS buildings shown in InfraWorks360
CyberCity3D Inc. Smart 3D GIS buildings shown in InfraWorks360

We hope you enjoyed this blog, we love feedback, so please comment or email us at the link below. When time permits, there will be more…..until next time….

CartoConsult Team




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