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Strathcona County’s Wye Road project offers a glimpse into their evolution from analog processes to VR-ready

Image courtesy of Strathcona County

Picture a road survey crew in the middle of Alberta, Canada. You’re probably imagining workers bundled up in down-filled parkas peering into theodolites for hours and hours in the bitter cold. In Strathcona County, their days of peering into theodolites for hours have ended because Strathcona County now uses Reality Capture.

Strathcona County is a specialized municipality in central Alberta, on the eastern outskirts of Edmonton. Located in one of Canada’s largest oil-producing provinces, the region’s strong economy and its many amenities fuel its population growth. In particular, the areas closest to Edmonton that were once rural are quickly transitioning to heavily suburban or urban.


Scanning for accuracy and safety

Strathcona County’s Transportation Planning and Engineering department, specifically the Engineering Services and Programming group (ESP), is responsible for designing its transportation infrastructure and performing the requisite surveying. “Most of our work is rehabbing existing roads and intersections,” says Jason Eggen, a supervisor of design for Strathcona County. “On projects like these, it’s critical to get accurate existing conditions data.”

Conventional surveying methods can be expensive and time-consuming, not to mention potentially dangerous. Even after organizing temporary lane closures, survey crews still have to contend with traffic while setting up and measuring.

So in 2012, after using laser scanning services on pilot projects, the group purchased its first laser scanner: a Leica C10 scanner. Strathcona County was already using Autodesk BIM design solutions such as Civil 3D, AutoCAD, and InfraWorks for its projects. As a result, once they became comfortable using laser scanners in production, they adopted Autodesk ReCap. ReCap is Autodesk’s Reality Capture software that processes laser-scanned and UAV / drone data and outputs Point Clouds to seamlessly integrate with Autodesk’s 3D BIM solutions. The group has since used Reality Capture on over 130 projects. 


Reality capture in action

One of Strathcona County’s largest Reality Capture projects is Wye Road in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton. This is a major east-west arterial road in Strathcona County, a commuter route to and from Edmonton. As the area has grown, the traffic on Wye Road has become increasingly congested, particularly during rush hours.

Over the next 20 years, the C$90 million project will be carried out in phases along the length of the road. The County will widen a good portion of Wye Road to a six-lane divided arterial roadway, with auxiliary lanes and double left turn lanes. The road will also be ‘urbanized’, with updates to storm drainage and gutters, curbing, lighting, and so forth. In addition, the County is developing more efficient access from the road to many adjacent businesses. This effort involves collaboration with the individual business owners through an extensive engagement process.


Intersection visions

Strathcona County’s ESP group assists an outside consulting firm on the Wye Road project design. As detailed design begins on a section of the road, the group works with local business and landowners to help them understand:

  • the overall design plans
  • how their land and businesses might be affected by the proposed road updates
  • how the design could be updated to accommodate concerns while still meeting functional requirements

“This part of our job is all about communication,” says Jeff Orr, an engineering technologist for Strathcona County. “But when we sit down with the owners, it’s a challenge for them to look at 2D drawings and get a good grasp of the project.”

Since the road is a 3D entity and is being designed using 3D modeling software, they decided to show it to the owners in 3D, including its 3D surroundings.

3D Point Cloud of Ordze Transit Centre
3D Point Cloud of Ordze Transit Centre. Image courtesy of Strathcona County
Bremner House, Strathcona County
3D Point Cloud model of Bremner House, Strathcona County. Image courtesy of Strathcona County

Wye Road scanning

The ESP Group processes the scans first with Leica software and then edits them in ReCap. This enables them to share Autodesk-ready Point Clouds with its design team for a more coordinated, higher-quality final design.

During the summer and fall of 2017, the County captured its first scans for the project:

  • Scanning time: 3 weeks
  • Area: approximately 32 hectares
  • 128 scans (all road level)
  • 5 five roads and 4 intersections
  • Building facades: 11 complete and 8 partial
  • Raw data: 64gb
  • Final ReCap data: 20gb

Strathcona County scanned the Wye Road corridor for several benefits. Using InfraWorks, the County combined elements of the Civil 3D design models with color scans of the surrounding area. These high-definition color scans capture building facades and business signage, as well as ‘street furniture’ such as traffic lights and signs.

1) This InfraWorks model is now the County’s communication platform for its engagement process with local business and landowners.

2) The scans also capture precise locations and measurements of the roadway’s existing conditions such as curbs, gutters, and hydrants.

3) The County was able to capture accurate as-is data of private properties without disturbing the local businesses.

4) Lastly, the County collects this data safely and efficiently. There’s no need for lane closures. The surveyors don’t have to work at dawn to avoid the 30-40,000 vehicles traveling down Wye Road during rush hour.

“A survey that normally might take weeks can now be done in just days,” says Orr. “And because you can capture so much area with a scan, we hardly ever need to go back for additional measurements that we missed the first time.”


Communicating with 3D visualization

Dealing with the individual business owners, who all have unique concerns, has been particularly challenging for the County. However, by using InfraWorks’s 3D visual environment, the County could virtually walk business owners through the project to address their concerns.

“Using InfraWorks is a great way to convey design information,” says Eggen. “It’s so much easier for the external stakeholders to understand what’s going on with the project and how the design and construction will impact their properties. And when we add the color scans, it’s as if they’re looking at the finished product.”

“They can give us instant feedback on the design…how a new entryway is too tight for their truck deliveries, for example, or how the construction staging we’ve proposed will impact their business,” says Orr.


Proven results

In one instance, the County needed to purchase just a portion of a business owner’s property. Initial negotiations were challenging because, looking at the 2D plans, the owner insisted it would ruin his business. “But after seeing the plan in InfraWorks, he realized the impact was a lot less than he thought,” says Eggen.

“As a result, we bought the land for a tenth of owner’s original price.”

Initially, Strathcona County used InfraWorks to generate an existing-conditions model for the Wye Road design. “In just a few hours, we imported information from publicly available datasets such as aerial photography and GIS information to create a well-detailed backdrop for the project,” says Eggen. “And now, as we get new scans and design data, we quickly combine that ReCap and Civil 3D data in InfraWorks.” And given the tight integration across InfraWorks, Civil 3D, and ReCap, it’s simple to update the InfraWorks model with this new data. “ReCap gives us an extra level of control over the Point Clouds, enabling us to edit the scanned data before and after uploading them into the InfraWorks model,” says Orr.

Strathcona County’s ESP group has now been using Reality Capture for over five years. In that time, their speed, processes, and deliverables have changed and matured. “For example, our first scans involved lots of field work to set up site control and targets,” says Eggen. “We now rely on post-processing, using cloud-to-cloud registration instead of field control.” In fact, the County estimates that the efficiency of its scanning workflow has increased by about 90 percent.

The group’s use of visualization techniques has changed in that time as well. “Our first model-based visualizations were basically AutoCAD renderings and occasionally we would produce fancier renderings or videos with 3ds Max,” says Eggen. “But now we use InfraWorks to create most of our visualizations.” The group is now experimenting with virtual reality.

“Reality capture and ReCap has fundamentally changed our communication and collaboration strategies,” says Eggen. “The software is very easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and works seamlessly with almost all Autodesk products, so our scanned data can be shared and used by a much wider audience. ReCap has been a game changer for us.”

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