Personalized public relations efforts aid roadway project success

Posted in: Bridges, Environmental, Highways


As transportation engineers, we must be willing and equipped to go beyond the typical public relations process and speak personally with impacted property owners. Successful one-on-one conversations with property owners can help a roadway project’s design schedule, right-of-way acquisition schedule and overall budget move ahead with ease. Additionally, reliable consultant-landowner cooperation benefits the public’s perception of the project and our client’s impression of our work.

Ideally, transportation consultants will contact the impacted property owners early in the design process. Being proactive helps foster trust with the property owner while reducing the potential for design changes further into the project and delaying the schedule. Initial contact efforts might include mailing flyers or postcards, arranging one-on-one meetings with property owners or conducting a formal public involvement initiative.

Adversely, a property owner may be prompted to reach out to a transportation engineer by:

  • Reading the eminent domain advertisement
  • Seeing survey crews gathering preliminary information
  • Learning about the project from a home owners association, community club or neighbor
  • Seeing a news story or article on the proposed project

Once a conversation is initiated, discussions can begin. An engineer and property owner will review the project’s scope and its proposed impacts together, and the project team will often prepare materials showing the proposed design.

Some property owners will be satisfied with the current plan. Others may express fear or concern over how the project may impact their property. Confused about the process or unhappy with the design, the property owner might want to discuss the details more thoroughly.

To contribute to a productive conversation, we must actively listen to the property owner as they express their concern. The property owner needs to feel as though they can express their concerns while having our undivided attention. While every property owner will have a unique concern specific to the project and their property, some common worries include:

  • Fears that the plans are “set in stone” and their concerns don’t matter to the designer or client
  • Unfair or zero compensation for their loss of property or damages
  • Lower business revenue due to parking or delivery truck impediments
  • Drainage impacts
  • Landscaping, signs or fencing impacts

Once the property owner has expressed their concerns, we must take the time to reassure the property owner we were listening and truly understand the position they are in. The impacted property is where the property owner lives, has established their business, or envisioned their future. This project may also be the first time the property owner has ever been affected by a transportation project – the process may be overwhelming and confusing.

Often, the property owner’s concern is due to a misunderstanding that we can gently clarify or easily solve. If the property owner is worried about a design element, we can begin by politely explaining the reasoning for the current design. However, we should let the property owner know that the entire team will take the time to review suggestions or alternative solutions to address the worry in a practical way. At times, a property owner may have a concern that can be addressed by finding a compromise. Start by asking the property owner what they see as the best solution. Their suggestion can serve as a jumping-off point to find an arrangement that works for each party. Every resolution will be unique to each property owner’s needs.

Being proactive in addressing property owners’ concerns during the design process allows transportation engineers to mitigate potential complications. These include keeping the project on schedule, facilitating a smooth right-of-way acquisition and construction process, and avoiding client involvement and condemnation. The key to this type of success is effective communication with property owners. Listening to, understanding and empathizing with their concerns will not only win their support, but it will help your team create a truly collaborative project that the entire community can be proud of.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Johns, PE is a roadway engineer with a strong knowledge of design, project development and project management. Her experience working within the South Carolina Department of Transportation makes her a valuable resource for Departmental plans and procedures. She has a highly diverse background, providing her with the ability to foresee potential issues from various angles.

Other blog articles by Jessica include: The impact of self-driving cars on infrastructure design

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