Communications Guidelines for State Departments of Transportation

The communications function is crucial to a transportation department's ability to clearly and effectively express its mission, vision, and goals to policy makers, elected officials, the media, and the general public. Effective communications can influence public support and customer satisfaction and enhance the image of transportation as an important public service. In times of financial constraints, a department of transportation (DOT) must be able to communicate the costs of providing essential services and the consequences of funding reductions. When faced with traffic congestion, construction delays, special events, or serious weather conditions, a DOT needs to communicate quickly and effectively with its customers. The expansion of new tools, such as social media and electronic communication, has radically enhanced a DOT's ability to communicate directly with its customer base. Effective communication within the DOT is equally important, so that all staff understand and are able to communicate the organization's mission and activities in a clear and consistent manner. While many DOTs have strong communications functions, there is a need for a comprehensive set of user-friendly guidelines and resources that can be used by all DOTs to establish, maintain, and enhance a high-quality communications program. The objective of this research is to create guidelines to help state DOTs more effectively and efficiently communicate the challenges, opportunities, and day-to-day operations of state DOTs. It is expected that the guidelines will be accompanied by resources such as templates, case studies, examples, graphics, and other tools to illustrate the strategies and practices that have been or may be used successfully by transportation agencies. The guidelines should provide assistance to a transportation agency in determining: (1) The appropriate role, purpose, and importance of the communications function in a state DOT; (2) How the communications functions should be organizationally structured, coordinated, and aligned with agency leadership; (3) How to scale the communications functions to suit agencies of varying size, budget, and organizational structure while retaining effectiveness; (4) Communications staff competencies, skill sets, training, continuing education, and effective hiring practices; (5) Appropriate training and internal communications to ensure that all DOT staff understand their roles in communicating appropriately and consistently as representatives of the agency; (6) When and how should a DOT develop a communications plan; how to align the communications plan with the agency's goals and mission; (7) How to define and segment target audiences; (8) How to select appropriate communications strategies and tools (including traditional and social media as well as innovative approaches): the advantages, disadvantages, appropriate use, and target audience of each; (9) How to manage customer-service expectations; (10) Challenges and constraints in communicating internally and externally and how these have been addressed successfully by various transportation agencies; (11) How to develop or select performance measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the internal and external communications function; (12) What lessons can be learned from sectors outside transportation, based on current trends and research regarding communications, marketing, public relations, and behavioral and cognitive science; (13) Under what circumstances and for what functions is it appropriate to supplement in-house communications staff with consultants; and (14) Additional information and resources aimed at communications professionals by including a compendium of relevant publications, training programs, websites, public and private companies, and trade associations.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 20-99

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Hedges, Christopher

  • Performing Organizations:

    Parsons Brinckerhoff

    2545 Farmers Dr. Suite 350
    Columbus, OH  United States  43235
  • Principal Investigators:

    Cole, Daniel

  • Start Date: 20140630
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20160620
  • Source Data: RiP Project 37697

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01543624
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 20-99
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Nov 19 2014 1:03AM