The construction of a new bridge is often a highly anticipated event for a community because of the significant impact bridges can have on daily life. Completed bridge projects can provide improved safety and streamlined traffic flow both on the bridge and below the bridge, especially for bridges that cross important bodies of water. They may also open up alternative transport options by including pedestrian and bike lanes.
Since infrastructure projects are most often funded almost entirely by taxpayer dollars, government agencies have a duty to involve community members in decisions about bridge projects.
In an article for the Prestressed Concrete Institute’s ASPIRE Concrete Bridge Magazine, Richard Dion shares some effective strategies for engaging communities in bridge projects.
If community members are informed about a project ahead of time, they can weigh in on their priorities for things like aesthetics, funding, and local impact.
But when project leaders don’t take the time to inform the public, community members may develop unrealistic expectations about the project, especially if they don’t understand the structural requirements, environmental challenges, and the overall cost of building safe infrastructure.
Adequate community engagement prior to the start of a bridge project can also help community members and businesses plan ahead for rerouted or delayed traffic.
Some strategies for engaging the public include conducting market research to learn community priorities, sharing information through websites and social media, holding public meetings, and creating visitor centers with project photos and renderings.
Dion notes that it’s important to remember that community engagement isn’t a one-way street. You can’t just publicize the information once and check it off the list. You have to provide forums for feedback and dialogue, and engage in two-way communication with the impacted communities. But the effort is worth it; when communities are engaged in bridge projects, the resulting project can be transformative.