Sometimes old school works best

Posted in: Bridges, Construction, Highways, Municipal

Mead & Hunt is blessed to have great planning professionals with a variety of specialties. I’m always impressed with the skills of our new hires, and am fortunate to be mentoring a few. When working on a project with them it is not uncommon, particularly if the project is somewhat contentious, for them to want to use the latest and greatest in technology to gather information and afford public input.

Yes, Mead & Hunt uses electronic surveys, social media, project websites and e-notices along with other leading edge technologies to gather and share information about a project. We have had great success with many of these. That said, those aren’t always the best tools. I don’t think “new” should trump “what will work best.”  Let me give you an example.

Scott Hasburgh, PE, Transportation Manager in our Madison office, and I were working on a main street project in a rural community. This is one of those towns where a fairly busy US highway is also their Main Street. Main Street — all one and a half miles of it — is lined with restaurants, taverns, a hardware store and even a dog grooming business along with beautiful old homes close to the road.

The Department of Transportation needs to improve this road so it will be safer and more efficient, which means wider with better sight lines, additional travel lanes, loss of parking and construction delays. The local community needs to replace its aging sewer and water, which means an even longer construction schedule and service interruptions.

The initial reaction from the local community for the project was less than enthusiastic. Questions like: “How will my customers get to me? Where will I take deliveries? Am I going to be able to get to my house?” And of course “How long will we be inconvenienced? Will we like the outcome? and How much will this cost us?”

To address all these questions and begin formulating the best plan for improving the roadway and minimizing impacts during construction, Scott and I put on our walking shoes. We let those on the main street know we were coming, and then we walked the entire corridor. We were able to talk to business owners, hear their concerns, see exactly what planning and design issues were most important to them and better understand the impact on their businesses. This face-to-face exercise (no pun intended) not only gave us a wealth of information to take back to the drawing boards, but also let local residents know they had been heard and that we cared about providing the best solution.

Yes, sending out an electronic survey would have been cheaper. We could have held a public meeting but would the timing be convenient for every business person? In the big picture of this project the cost for a few days walking and talking, and then compiling all the great info we gathered was a drop in the bucket on a project that will impact the lives of many for the next 50 years.

Though this particular project is still in the works, I am confident that the design would not have been so well received if we had not made that important 1½ mile walk.

Dustin Wolff, AICP

About the Author

When he works on development and preservation plans, Dustin Wolff, AICP, keeps in mind that communities need to evolve. “Helping people shape their futures is a rewarding and humbling responsibility,” he says. “The built environment has a profound effect on our lives. Decisions we make today will be felt for years to come.” He also enjoys visiting cities around the U.S. to experience what makes them special.

Read more posts by Dustin Wolff, AICP

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