TWM Contributor: Heather Copeland, PE

Date: July 2021

Public Involvement is Essential in Transportation Planning

Who creates a public works project? You may think of politicians, planners, engineers, and contractors. But what about the people that the project serves, including residents, commuters, cyclists, pedestrians, and others? They are the everyday users of the road project and have an important voice in making the transportation project a success.

Projects with federal or state funding have policies in place that require public input into projects at various stages. Even without these requirements, local communities have come to realize that developing quality transportation improvements means early, frequent, and on-going public involvement in project decisions.

After initial project planning is complete, it’s a good time to solicit and collect public feedback on the project concepts. Methods of communicating include project “fact sheets”, news releases, direct mailings, social media posts, website updates, and public meetings.

MoDOT EPG Section 129 “Public Involvement”

Public meetings are a very effective communication tool. The meeting is set up at a public, accessible facility near to the project limits, and scheduled in 2- to 3-hour blocks to allow a wide variety of the public to attend. It is publicized at least 30 days in advance in print newspapers, on social media, and on the project sponsor’s website. Since the goal is to include everyone affected by the project, the Project Manager will consider whether there are Environmental Justice concerns in reaching underserved populations, and assess the need for interpreters, translators, or presenting written materials in languages other than English. At the public meeting, engineers and other members of the design team present the project’s purpose and need, describe the potential impacts on the community and the efforts to minimize those impacts. Attendees are given opportunities to provide feedback and comments on the project. The project team documents how comments about the project are being addressed, any design modifications as a result, and the response provided to the comments given.

TWM staff has extensive experience in planning, leading, and documenting public meetings. Whether your project is on an interstate or a sidewalk addition on a neighborhood road, we have the knowledge to help you engage with the public and collect valuable feedback from your constituents.

For example, TWM engineers have produced presentation materials and presented design elements for six public meetings for the City of Brentwood’s Brentwood Bound project.  The presentation materials varied from foam boards with the Manchester Road design scaled to a large size for comfortable viewing, specialized details drawn to show the full extent of pedestrian enhancements, and Q&A documents to show what project questions have been asked and what the response was. These meetings have been both informal, where engineers met with the public in one-on-one conversations, and formal presentations with a presentation deck and questions from an audience.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, public meetings held in person necessarily transitioned to virtual events for safety reasons. TWM was ready for this unexpected transition and were able to help our clients move forward with public engagement using the Zoom Webinar platform. Our engineers recently held two public meetings for Seckman Road projects through Mastodon State Historic Site (see photos at right). The link to the meeting was advertised in newspapers, online, and on social media. Toll-free phone numbers were provided for those who don’t have an internet connection. The project team shared the purpose and need of the project, the proposed safety improvements, and explained the impacts to the park via a looped presentation deck. Engineers had cameras on and monitored a Q&A box and a Chat box to take questions and comments from attendees. More than a dozen public comments were received during the meeting. Engineers answered the questions live during the meeting and recorded the question and answer in a Q&A box accessible to all who joined the meeting at any time. The client was satisfied with the result, commenting that more attendees came to the virtual public meeting than traditionally attended in person!

Public involvement is a vital part of any Public Works project. Contact the experts at TWM for help in engaging your community in the next big project in your town!

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Heather Copeland, PE

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Nick Correnti, PE

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