RES2020-17: Community engagement in rural communities

For transportation agencies, quality planning and project development require meaningful input from the public. Many members of the public are genuinely interested in what is happening in their community but do not know how they can effectively provide input to influence the outcome of a transportation plan or project. Public involvement is just one of the terms planners use for gathering information from the public. Other terms include public participation, public outreach, and public engagement. These terms are often used interchangeably. Whatever term utilized, they all have the same overarching goal, which is to ensure that community members have a voice in their transportation systems. Like many other transportation agencies around the country, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has developed basic standards and protocol that must be followed for community engagement and public input/outreach (TDOT, 2012). A majority of these standards have origins in standard policy from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) (FHWA, 2017). Public engagement provides a significant value as it helps to reach effective transportation solutions by considering a wide variety of viewpoints. It encourages people to speak up and share their ideas, which can influence infrastructure in their community. Effective public engagement activities build credibility and trust between the department and those whom it exists to serve. Public engagement also promotes the likelihood the projects are widely accepted, that they are effective solutions, and that the citizens are knowledgeable about the projects and their benefits (Bassler, 2008), While these public engagement practices and policies do exist, TDOT sometimes finds it challenging to involve the public in a meaningful way especially in small town and rural community. Most of the land area in Tennessee is rural. Based on the 2010 Census, 93% of Tennessee is rural. Some 70 of 95 counties had at least 50% of their residents living in the 38,330 square miles of rural Tennessee (, 2018). For organizational purposes, TDOT has divided the state into four regions and then the state is further divided into 11 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and 12 Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) shown in the figure below. People in rural areas have unique differences and challenges when it comes to economic and community development, transportation needs and health care. It is not surprising then that they would also have different mechanisms for effectively engaging their population. Rural communities are often distant from the technological, geographically, and socially dense urban and suburban communities, which presents distinct challenge in policy engagement.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $76,415.00
  • Contract Numbers:



  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Tennessee Department of Transportation

    James K. Polk Building
    Fifth and Deaderick Street
    Nashville, TN  United States  37243-0349
  • Managing Organizations:

    East Tennessee State University

    P.O. Box 70565, Ross Hall
    Johnson City, TN  United States  37614
  • Project Managers:

    Taylor, Morgan

  • Performing Organizations:

    East Tennessee State University

    1276 Gilbreath Dr.
    Johnson City, TN  United States  37614
  • Principal Investigators:

    Uddin, Mohammad

    Foster, Kelly

    Forbes Bright, Candice

  • Start Date: 20190801
  • Expected Completion Date: 20210531
  • Actual Completion Date: 20210531
  • USDOT Program: Transportation, Planning, Research, and Development

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01744402
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Tennessee Department of Transportation
  • Contract Numbers: RES2020-17, 40100-07219
  • Files: RIP, STATEDOT
  • Created Date: Jun 29 2020 1:26PM