Creating Project Specific Websites
According to the American Press Institute 70 percent of Americans use the internet to find the news that matters most to them. Whether it is a laptop, home computer or mobile device the delivery of news is rapidly changing. Those of us who have important news to deliver need to take note.
Too often once a project is approved, a contractor is selected, and a work schedule is set, the task of informing the public about plans falls by the wayside. The use of a website on local road projects to detail a project’s goals, update the public on potential changes as well as inform the public about road closures and delay possibilities is critical in construction management.
Most states’ DOTs operate websites that detail ongoing projects, alert residents to public hearings or information sessions and show the status of current road conditions. The Texas Department of Transportation for instance operates a project information database on its website. Users can locate projects by county, state/federal legislative member, and those funded under the Stimulus Program and by Prop 12 and 14 bonds. The site updates the individual project’s progress through design and construction. And, according to the site: “Many of these projects are very large and very complex. As such, shifts in funding and regional priorities can affect their status.”
But what about projects within a small community or a county project that may not impact hundreds of thousands of commuters on a given day? These projects are no less important to those who travel the roads and will feel the impact of lane closures and delays. In addition many of these projects do not fall under a state’s department of transportation and will not appear on its website.
At the project-level, work zone public information and outreach strategies are used to communicate with road users, the general public, area residences and businesses, and appropriate public entities about project information. This information includes road conditions in the work zone area and the safety and mobility effects of the work zone. According to those who have used these kinds of websites, public information is one of the most cost effective work zone impact mitigation strategies, in both urban and rural areas.
In addition, effective use of public information and outreach strategies can lead to improved driver and worker safety, fewer traffic delays, and reduced driver frustration.
“The biggest benefit that I see to using a project website is the ability for the public to become part of the project by either signing up for project E-blasts or by asking project related questions through the website,” said Destree.
While the task of creating a website may seem daunting, the task is rather simple. Whether starting from scratch or simply adding a page to an existing website, the benefits to elected officials, project managers and the general public are great.
When working with a construction engineer the requirements for website, social media integration and regular update policies need to be included in the request for proposals. Deciding where the website will reside, who is responsible for updates and how often the updates will be made is important. Having the construction engineer perform the updates makes the most sense. After all they are closest to the actual work being done and can move quickly when a change in weather or other unforeseen act delays or disrupts work.
Destree says it is important to make the website a part of the overall planning effort.
In general one update per week is ideal. It is important to have a regular schedule so those visiting the website know when to expect updates. In addition any major change should be announced ahead of time. For instance many projects require lane closures that will change during the project, and at times two lanes will be reduced to one for a day or more to accommodate certain work.
Announcing these in advance and providing alternate routes to avoid congestion is a great public service and can reduce traffic through the work zone and even increase worker safety.
While almost all communities today have their own websites, the ability to update and provide supervision of these sites varies greatly. If a community wishes to host a project specific page on its existing website it must be understood that posting regular updates and responding to the public is crucial, and staff, who have many other duties, will probably not have the time or knowledge to perform these tasks. Allowing the construction engineer access to the page is the ideal solution to this. Not only are they the closest to the project and hold the most knowledge of schedules and events impacting residents, but they also are a stakeholder in making the project website an effective means of communication.
Social Media Integration
Using e-blasts and social media to help alert residents and commuters to changes can add significantly to websites’ usefulness. Creating a sign up for e-blasts as a part of the website is important. In the event of an emergency or last minute changes that can impact commuters, an e-blast to people who have signed up for the service is fast and efficient.
In addition, a major road project through a commercial area can have an impact on local businesses in the area. By using project specific websites and social media to promote those businesses during these much needed projects, goodwill and resilience can be established that lessens the impact of the work.
Road projects, even small scale projects, cause disruption in the lives of residents and commuters. However, vital infrastructure improvements are important to ensure the resilience of a community. Communicating the need for a project is important to gaining approval and securing funding, but it is not where communication ends.
The efficiency and ease of use the internet provides now allows transportation project managers another tool to communicate. “Project websites provide project related information that the public may not have seen in the past,” said Destree. “The plans and specs, project maps, project detours, etc. can be added to the website to give the public more project information and allow the public to become more informed.“
Keeping the public informed can help both the project manager and elected officials. By addressing concerns early, small problems do not become large ones. By communicating road closures and delays commuters can seek alternate routes avoiding frustrations and delays. Showing the details of a project to the public can also be an effective tool for the community leaders to show resident how their hard earned tax dollars are improving the entire community.
HR Green has created project websites for many road projects and uses social media channels to augment and promote the sharing of vital information to residents and commuters. To learn more contact Kyle Leonard, Social Media Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org