Consultation with the public is fundamental to the development of transportation plans and projects. Outreach to the public also is critical to build support for agency programs and to secure adequate funding for transportation infrastructure.
Federal and state laws set requirements for involving the public in transportation decision-making. This includes providing for early and continuous public involvement prior to adopting plans or programs, considering and responding to public comments, providing timely information, offering convenient and accessible public meeting locations, and engaging a wide variety of stakeholders in transportation decision-making.
Historically, federally mandated public involvement has consisted of in-person outreach, such as public workshops, town-hall meetings, and public hearings. Mail and telephone surveys and other communications also have been used. Taking advantage of more recent technologies, public involvement now includes use of email and Internet postings, as well as online tools available to communicate with the public.
The FHWA, through its Every Day Counts initiative, is promoting use of virtual public involvement strategies and techniques. Virtual tools provide increased transparency and access to transportation planning activities and project development and decision-making processes. Many virtual tools also provide information in visual and interactive formats that enhance public and stakeholder understanding of proposed projects and plans. Virtual approaches have become even more important as communities faced social distancing requirements in response to the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
The following are some of the methods highlighted through FHWA’s EDC program:
- Mobile applications allow users to get information or submit their own text and images. An app can serve as a digital clearinghouse for project planning and development, public involvement opportunities, and contact information.
- Project visualization techniques include photo simulations, three-dimensional images, videos, aerial footage, and augmented reality, providing a mockup of what a proposed project would look like.
- Do-it-yourself videos shot with tablets, smartphones, and digital cameras are an affordable and accessible way to reach stakeholders with content about plans, projects, and events.
- Digital crowdsourcing tools gather suggestions and provide a forum for others to weigh in on ideas. They enable stakeholders to engage in the early stages of a project in a quick, easy way.
- Virtual town halls offer a way to take part in transportation planning without traveling to a meeting location. Participants can join the meeting via teleconference or online meeting software.
- Mapping tools communicate information in a visual format. Their interactive capabilities allow users to search, click, and query their way across a project site, neighborhood, or region to gather details not easily accessible in other formats.
- All-in-one tools combine crowdsourcing features, mapping, visualization, file sharing, and survey instruments, offering a one-stop-shop for information on a topic.
- Digital tools to enhance in-person events include live polling via mobile devices, collecting and sharing ideas with tablets, and using social media to stream public meetings in real time.
For more background on requirements and resources related to public involvement, see the Federal Highway Administration’s Public Involvement web page and Virtual Public Involvement Program.