New Study Pinpoints Transportation Outreach Tactics

A new 30-page study compiles sets of research-tested themes and messages that state departments of transportation can use to communicate with different audiences about the economic and quality of life benefits generated through transportation infrastructure investment.

Requested by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and conducted as part of National Cooperative Highway Research Program, the study’s findings are intended for use by state DOT staff in communications, public affairs, and related areas, as well as by communications professionals in the private sector.

Photo by the Nebraska DOT

“Most Americans are unaware of the degree to which prosperity, community vitality, and personal well-being depend on continued investment in the U.S. transportation system,” the study’s researchers found.

“Often this awareness arises only when the system is disrupted in some way, such as by road flooding, a transit service breakdown, bottlenecked freeways, or a bridge closure,” they said. “However, as states seek increased funding for infrastructure investment, a broader public understanding of the benefits of investment is essential to achieving public support.”

Across audiences, the research team found that messages resonating the most with the general public focused on travel time – such as having a dependable commute or more time with family – mobility, and reduction of stress.

Photo by WSDOT

General statements about the importance of infrastructure investment for “the economy” or “economic growth” typically did not resonate with the public.

The study’s researchers also found that “new approaches” are emerging that can improve public awareness of the critical linkage between transportation investment, quality of life, and local economies – approaches that take advantage of the trend toward more visual and personalized stories that can be shared on social media or in short videos.

Across those approaches, the team identified more than 120 potential themes and terms for communicating the benefits of transportation investment and consolidated them into eight overarching themes for testing: health; family and friends; connections and community; mobility and accessibility; time; money; safety; and environment.

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