It’s common, even required at stages to engage the public during the planning and development of a transportation project. But to continue that effort throughout the construction phase is rare.
The Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT’s) I-35 Mobility Initiative lets motorists and business owners along the interstate know what improvements are coming, what the impacts will be during construction, and what can be done to mitigate delay and access issues. Keeping the public informed is one way to help lessen the negative impact of the construction project as it occurs.
“Communications and Outreach for the I-35 Mobility Initiative” was the title of a poster developed for the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Jan. 13-17. In fact, it was the only poster to highlight public outreach covering all phases of a construction project displayed at TRB, the largest gathering of transportation practitioners and researchers in the world. The poster highlights the project’s mobility coordination goals and how TxDOT is using technology and social media to keep travelers informed of lane closures and travel conditions. It also describes future plans of the project.
For the past two years and continuing through 2016, TxDOT’s Waco District has made a comprehensive effort to keep the public and businesses along I-35 in Central Texas informed about the state’s massive, $2.1 billion I-35 Expansion Project. The effort coordinates 17 separate projects spanning McLennan, Belton, Falls and Hill counties.
As part of the outreach effort, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) is currently deploying a first-of-its-kind traveler information system to alert commuters about construction activities and delays before and during their trips along I-35. Additionally, staff from TxDOT and TTI are getting the word out via face-to-face visits, a monthly newsletter, awareness campaigns, community meetings, electronic roadside signs, and real-time social media-based traveler updates. The effort is evolving into a prototype for TxDOT to use as it adapts its approach to conducting construction projects. The new model involves greater outreach to the public to answer citizens’ questions, resolving mobility issues in a more timely fashion, and keeping the public informed as construction progresses.
“The poster we developed was unique,” TTI Assistant Agency Director Christopher Poe explains. Poe coordinates all of TTI’s efforts on the project. “It outlines the extensive campaign throughout the construction of the multiple projects along a single interstate highway. I think the work that TxDOT and TTI have done on this project will become a model for other DOTs.”