Analysis of Virtual Public Involvement in the Transportation Planning Process

Traditional public information meetings (PIMs) are often not well attended, feedback is sparse, and participation can be limited to special interest groups. Adding virtual public involvement (VPI) techniques extends the reach of engagement strategies by making stakeholder participation more convenient, affordable, and even enjoyable. The current effects of COVID-19 on public gatherings have shed light on a more immediate need to explore VPI opportunities. Although meeting the challenges of conducting business during a public health crisis is important, VPI provides an opportunity, beyond our current situation, to reach a broader, more diverse audience and provide a different approach to public involvement in transportation. An engagement plan that outlines the services the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) can offer to localities to assist in the development of their transportation plans is outlined in VDOT’s Business Plan. MetroQuest is one virtual input platform VDOT is utilizing for PIMs and efforts have led to higher levels of public participation than previously has been the case. The impacts of using such VPI platforms in terms of data on market penetration, participation, demographics, and agency cost-savings is not well understood. The purpose of this project is to assess the role of VPI in VDOT’s business practices, examine its potential to reach a broader public, and document lessons learned for improved efficacy. VDOT TMPD and the Communications Division will use the results of this study to promote VPI and to develop outreach strategies and guidance to VDOT districts. The findings may also be useful for other VDOT divisions that seek to broaden public outreach through virtual mechanisms.