Virtual technology moving ADOT forward on public engagement

An essential tool during public health situation holds promise for the future

PHOENIX – With social distancing essential during the current public health situation, the Arizona Department of Transportation has turned to virtual gatherings to engage members of the public on highway projects and studies that affect them.

These virtual tools that have been so useful of late will provide new ways for ADOT to conduct public engagement into the future. 

One example of this approach is a recent virtual public hearing on the future I-40/US 93 traffic interchange in west Kingman. Seventy people called in to listen and provide their input on the project, while many others were able to listen with the meeting simultaneously broadcast on local radio stations.To date, 50 people have provided comments about the proposed interchange. These attendance and public comment numbers rival those of traditional, in-person public hearings.

“Perhaps the most important lesson we learned through this process is that virtual public involvement is possible,” said Tim Tait, ADOT communication director. “The public craves new and innovative ways to provide input on critical transportation projects.”

When the current public health situation has passed, ADOT will resume in-person public meetings and hearings, but virtual components will be used to involve even more people, such as those who live far away from meeting places and those who speak languages other than English.

“The virtual tools, like using telephone town halls, allow more people to participate and to engage in different ways,” Tait said. “That will only improve the quality and level of input we receive on projects, which will make our projects better for communities and the state.”

Public involvement, an essential part of planning for transportation improvements, is required in some cases under the National Environmental Policy Act. Different types of improvements call for different activities and actions to solicit input, but at its core this process seeks diverse viewpoints from stakeholders and uses them to inform decisions.

In addition to public meetings and hearings, ADOT is using virtual technology for its Construction Academy pre-apprenticeship training program, meetings delivering information on truck safety inspections to companies in Mexico and sessions helping disadvantaged business enterprises learn how to compete for federally assisted contracts. 

“At ADOT, we have always placed a premium on meeting the community 'where they are' to get the best, most diverse perspectives on proposed and upcoming projects,” Tait said. “In the end, we all benefit through greater participation and increased access to engagement opportunities.”