Meaningful participation is the goal of a good Public Involvement Plan (PIP), but how do you manage that when the project study area is approximately 4,700 square miles? That was the challenge when Lochmueller drafted a PIP that outlined goals for the Mid-States Corridor Tier 1 Project. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Mid-States Corridor Regional Development Authority (RDA) partnered to deliver a Tier 1 Study of the twelve-county study area.
Lochmueller drafted a PIP that outlined the goals, milestones, and targeted strategies for a successful implementation. The goals of the PIP were to build awareness of the Mid-States Corridor Project, increase understanding of the work underway, and gather feedback to inform decision-making throughout the study.
Engaging project stakeholders and the general public in the environmental study decision-making process was critically important to a well-informed decision. Opportunities for involvement with the public were essential to building understanding and encouraging feedback. A variety of unique communications tools were used to ensure stakeholders had access to information and convenient means for commenting. One of those methods was the Meeting in a Box. Stakeholders who were unable to attend Public Information Meetings or Public Hearings could visit local libraries to access all the materials provided at the meeting. Libraries also had a comment drop box. The team understood that consistent messaging played a key role in project understanding and success. A robust and mobile-friendly project website ensured messaging was easily distributed by the project team and easily accessed by the public.
Due to the climate of COVID-19 at the time, virtual public involvement methods shifted to promote safe and prudent practices. Relying on electronic communication rather than in-person meetings and offering virtual options were in response to the changing health protocols. A heavy emphasis was made on the project website, E-newsletters, text alerts, surveys and questionnaires, and online presentations. Social media was also utilized as a tool for keeping the community and business leaders informed. The pandemic also prompted a return to older methods of outreach. Because grocery and convenience stores were reliably open and frequented, fliers were posted in locations proximate to the project alternatives to keep people informed.
Through these public involvement efforts, INDOT, the RDA, and Lochmueller have gathered useful information and encouraged meaningful communication throughout the project!