Monday, January 29, 2007

Can you hear me now? Good.

When it comes to government agencies, WSDOT must be among the most welcoming. A quick look at our on-line events calendar shows how WSDOT is constantly inviting neighbors and friends over to talk. Some times the conversation is lively, and some times it seems as if we can't get anyone to pay attention.

It is not easy to engage the public in a dialogue. Those of us who study such things work hard to come up with new ways of reaching communities. We utilize a toolbox full of tactics to reach people with information about decision-making - from basic newsletters mailed to specific neighborhoods to e-mail lists to electronic signs on roadsides.

But easily the most tried and true tactic for getting the public's thoughts on transportation projects is the open house.

Wait ... You might be thinking that open houses mean stale smelling school gymnasiums full of boring information boards and overly ernest government staff. But last year WSDOT tried a new way of reaching people, a "virtual" open house.

The I-90 Snoqualmie Pass project team knew that many of the people potentially most affected by changes to I-90, which snakes across the Cascade Mountains as the main route between Seattle and the great Inland Northwest, didn't live anywhere near the actual project boundaries. The route is used by truckers, tourists, students traveling to state universities, grandparents visiting family, skiers and mountain sports enthusiasts. Myriad interests pass through the project boundaries.

So how does one reach all these people? The virtual open house was a unique way of trying to reach more people and engage them in the process.

With so much information and entertainment vying for our attention, what does it take to make sure that your government is accountable and responsive to your concerns? How do you think we should be trying to share information about project designs, construction plans and environmental impacts?

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