December 7th, 2012

TERRIFIC TWEETS

Optimize Mobility, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Innovation touched every aspect of the I-15 CORE project from construction to communication. While massive structures were built nearby then moved into place, communication experts were devising new ways to inform the public about how to avoid construction related delay.

This post is the second of two posts that detail how combining social media and traffic management tools helped keep traffic moving. The posts are based on a presentation given by Geoff Dupaix, Public Involvement Manager on the project. Missed the first post? Read it here.

“Our project communications team did an outstanding job in finding creative, innovative approaches to keep the public up to speed on the latest construction news related to the project,” says Nile Easton, Communications Director for UDOT. Social media, traffic reports and paid advertisements were used to inform the public about travel through the I-15 CORE construction zone. Two examples illustrate the success of the communication efforts in reducing delay during critical points in time.

No post-game problems!

BYU football games typically draw more than 60 thousand attendees to the campus. That influx of traffic creates delay on I-15 and surrounding streets and requires close collaboration among BYU, police and traffic signal engineers from Orem and Provo.

This graph illustrates how letting the public know about anticipated delay due to construction can affect driving behavior. The PI team asked fans to stay in the Provo area after the game to avoid a heavy influx of traffic. The red line represents an even flow of traffic entering the freeway.

PI and MOT teams anticipated heavy attendance at the BYU vs. Wyoming game that coincided with a ramp closure that eliminated one option for drivers leaving the game. Under normal circumstances, traffic peaks two hours following a game. With the additional ramp closure, PI and MOT team members worried that even more delay could occur. A goal of reducing traffic by 10 percent was set in order to keep traffic moving onto I-15 following the game.

The PI team devised specific messages to the public aimed at preventing traffic entering the freeway all at once after the game. The messages, delivered by Tweets and KSL traffic reports, asked fans to stay in the Provo area after the game to eat, watch a movie or shop. Traffic volume was reduced as a result of the communication effort.

After the game, BYU officials became “true believers” in the ability of the PI-MOT team to provide information and options to the public, according to Geoff Dupaix, a PI Coordinator on the project. “That’s a credit to this team.”

Practice makes perfect

After 60 closures, the PI-MOT team was accomplished in helping the public avoid delay. However, the last full closure posed an additional challenge. A full overnight closure of I-15 was needed to set a bridge girder. The only identified alternate route was a 7 mile detour. The PI-MOT team needed road users to avoid that area of I-15 or face delays.

Messages about the closure and alternate route were conveyed to the public, and PI-MOT team members monitored traffic flow and volumes. Within minutes before the closure, “volume disappeared,” says Eric Rasband, I-15 CORE MOT Manager. The public “became a true partner in our closure.”

Lessons learned

The level of cooperation and successful outcomes resulted in strategies that can be tailored for use on a project of any size:

  • Leadership should set PI and MOT goals, and PI and MOT requirements should be set in tandem.
  • Where possible, set up a mini TOC to monitor traffic moving through the project.
  • Establish a planning and approval process that involves all relevant parties, including project UDOT, the contractor and stakeholders.
  • Set realistic goals for reducing traffic volume and define expectations.  It may not be possible to eliminate all the inconvenience of road construction, but good PI strategies can make traveling through the construction zone much easier.
  • Ask four critical questions before each closure or traffic event: First, what are the current planned traffic conditions and challenges? Second, how do we want driving behaviors to change to meet those challenges? Third, what messages will most effectively affect that change? And fourth, what tactics can be used to communicate those messages, and who should be the target of those messages?

Stakeholder feedback indicates the PI-MOT communication strategies worked:

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