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High-tech tool to help make case for Boston Olympics

The toughest challenge for backers of a Boston Olympics in 2024 may be persuading city residents that new sports venues would not ruin their neighborhoods or lengthen commuting times after the games are over.

To try to win over skeptics, organizers are developing a high-tech tool to forecast the effects of potential sports venues and proposed transportation improvements, years before they are built.

They call the tool the “regional smart model” or just “the model.” It is a 3-D, digitized version of Greater Boston, rendered in meticulous detail, linked to layer upon layer of data about the region, such as details of car and pedestrian traffic, public transit, and neighborhood demographics.

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When complete, the model will allow planners and engineers to study how the city works now, and how Boston could work decades in the future, with some possible modifications to accommodate the Olympics.

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“We can use [the model] to build consensus with local community groups and show how these plans will positively impact the environment in which they live, work, and raise their families,” John Fish, chairman of Suffolk Construction and leader of the local effort to bring the 2024 Olympic Games to Boston, said in an interview. “We know if we can’t explain that to people, it’s not going to be a workable process.”

For instance, developers can “insert a venue” into the model, modify the nearby roads, virtually, and then use the model to test traffic in 2024, 2030, or any date the programmer chooses, said Peter Campot, chief innovation officer for Suffolk Construction, who has been working on the project.

“You can visualize the results,” Campot said.

He said people can have confidence in the model’s forecasts because it uses data that are already in the public realm and are maintained by public agencies.

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Suffolk Construction innovation officer Peter Campot, with project engineer Andrew Won, said the model helps visualize how traffic or other issues would be affected.
Suffolk Construction innovation officer Peter Campot, with project engineer Andrew Won, said the model helps visualize how traffic or other issues would be affected.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“There are some assumptions you have to make,” he said, such as how a new MBTA stop might affect the development of a neighborhood, “and we will be transparent about the assumptions, so people can see how they were made and what they are based on.”

The local Boston 2024 group is developing the model at a cost of about $1.5 million, all raised through private donations, Fish said.

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The group plans to give the model to the public as a gift.

“Even if we don’t win the Olympics, we’ll have this model as a byproduct of our efforts to pursue the Olympic Games,” Fish said. “If we don’t win, the value we create will be well in excess of $1.5 million for Greater Boston, because the cities will be able to use this as a planning tool for the Commonwealth’s future.”

In June, the US Olympic Committee announced that Boston was one of four finalists for a potential US bid for the 2024 summer games. Other cities on the short list are Los Angeles, which last hosted the summer Olympics in 1984; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.

The committee will decide by early next year if any of the potential host cities is capable of putting together a winning bid and, if so, which city gives the United States the best chance to earn the games. If the committee decides to bid for the 2024 Games, it will advance one city for consideration by the International Olympic Committee, which will choose the 2024 host city from worldwide competing bids in 2017.

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At the moment, the regional forecasting model exists on computer drives at the offices of Boston 2024, said Campot. Programmers were working to add the city’s underground infrastructure to the model, including gas and electric lines, he said.

Fish said he believes the public may see the model in action in November, in neighborhood meetings about potential Olympic venues.

A 3-D version of Greater Boston was created with the $1.5 million computer model being developed by Boston 2024 to show the potential impact of the Olympic Games on the region.
A 3-D version of Greater Boston was created with the $1.5 million computer model being developed by Boston 2024 to show the potential impact of the Olympic Games on the region.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.