An expert project team combined with key stakeholder involvement and a robust work plan are essential to a successful corridor study
By Pat McGraw and Angie Bolstad
With every project we work on, we’re driven to provide people with better and smarter mobility options. We understand that resources are limited, existing infrastructure is aging, public perception is more important than ever, technology is creating a rapidly connected world, and individuals are increasingly choosing to travel by multiple modes of transportation. Understanding that you can create meaningful change when you start a project with the end goal in mind, we use corridor studies as one tool to help clients assess and define access, mobility, transportation system needs, redevelopment needs, and redefine future potential of the community.
Looking beyond functional considerations, stakeholder engagement can be a powerful means of working with a community to determine how they see themselves now and where they want to see themselves in the immediate, mid- and long-term future. We work with them to show how developing a corridor project can correlate with those visions.
So, what do you need to think through before you get started with a corridor study? Three things will set the foundation for a successful project: 1) a project team with high level expertise, 2) purposeful involvement from key decision makers and stakeholders, and 3) a well thought-out and managed work plan.
1. Choosing the right project team
In sports, the depth of a team’s “bench” can be, and quite often is, what determines a win. These bench players may only play for a few minutes, but if they execute in their role, they can lift the team to reach its desired goals.
To solve a dangerous transportation bottleneck in the City of Cottage Grove, Minnesota, expertise and a robust work plan allowed for an innovative approach that led to implementation of a first-of-its-kind use of dual roundabouts on Minnesota’s trunk highway system.
A corridor study requires a strong team that includes a project manager, transportation engineer, traffic engineer, and transportation planner. But don’t forget to seek out key bench players. For example, while the project may not be able to include a full market analysis for the areas served by the corridor, a brief review and conversation with a high-level experts in market analysis could help avoid pitfalls or capture value-added ideas with little cost to the project. Other areas with similar potential might include:
- Arts: Is there potential to strengthen community bonds by incorporating art? Is there potential to seek special funding?
- Bike and pedestrian: Is there potential value added by the unique perspective brought by someone with a broad set of experiences with various communities across North America? Don’t forget that the role of bicycles or walking may vary across cultures.
- Cultural resources: Are there historic or archaeological features that need protection? Are there cultural themes that could be utilized to help establish a sense of place?
- Experts in multicultural engagement: A single message may be received and/or reacted to differently by people with varying cultural backgrounds. Does this potential exist on your project?
- First-mile/last-mile connections: Understanding these “off-corridor” connections can be one of the most important factors in the project leaving a positive legacy for the broader community.
- Funding: Once you know what you want to build, will you have a plan to pay for it?
- Intelligent transportation systems (ITS): What is the current situation, and are there potential meaningful additions or modifications?
- Lighting: Usually, detail design is not completed at this stage. Even so, we should have a reasonable understanding of the lighting needs and opportunities.
- Outreach: What is the community outreach strategy? How can we incorporate social media? How can we intercept stakeholders where they gather, physically or online?
- Pavement: Could pavement experts provide cost savings or value added (primarily durability, aesthetics, or environmental) related recommendations?
- Planners specializing in urban or rural places: Are there lessons to be learned from other communities that could be used to help maneuver your community past the pitfalls encountered by others?
- Railroad expertise: Even if a railroad doesn’t cross the corridor directly, could understanding an adjacent railroad’s key functional parameters and values can be helpful.
- Water resources: Think beyond stormwater management. Is there potential to protect or enhance stormwater quality? Is there potential to create or enhance a community feature while meeting stormwater management requirements?
- Wayfinding: What key destinations (community centers, parks, schools, etc.) will be dependent to some degree on wayfinding established along the corridor? Is there a better way to provide the wayfinding than a standard road sign?
_q_tweetable:Resources are limited, existing infrastructure is aging, and public perception is more important than ever._q_Limited funding, reduced natural resources, and greater environmental consciousness are creating new transportation challenges, so it’s important to pick a team that knows how to tap into and implement innovative ideas for your community.
For example, to solve a dangerous transportation bottleneck in the City of Cottage Grove, Minnesota, expertise and a robust work plan allowed for an innovative approach that led to implementation of a first-of-its-kind use of dual roundabouts on Minnesota’s trunk highway system. In the very early days of roundabouts in North America, we proposed a six-legged modified multi-lane and a four-legged, single-lane roundabout at the ramp terminals of an interchange on a heavily used state highway. These roundabouts were some of the first roundabouts on the trunk highway system and were the first used at an interchange in this fashion within Minnesota. This project produced the first Intersection Control Evaluation (ICE) report in the state and went on to win seven state and national awards.
Innovation was a requirement on numerous fronts. But innovation teamed with the expertise, deep team bench, and work plan for both internal and external team members was required for this project to solve a decade-long challenge for the City of Cottage Grove.
2. Identifying and including key stakeholders
Who are the key decision makers for your project? Who is guiding the project, and who has ultimate veto power? Sometimes people underestimate the power of a key decision maker. It’s important to keep them meaningfully engaged throughout the entire project.
The people in power are not always the people most affected by the project, so it’s also important to ensure that under-represented groups get a voice. Effective stakeholder involvement requires a balance; keep decision makers satisfied, while also connecting with the population affected by the project. Depending on the demographics of the area, connecting with the group of people who have low power, but high interest can require thinking outside-the-box.
The people in power are not always the people most affected by the project, so it’s also important to ensure that under-represented groups get a voice. Effective stakeholder involvement requires a balance; keep decision makers satisfied, while also connecting with the population affected by the project.
Traditional stakeholder engagement includes open house meetings, project website updates, emails, focus groups, steering committees, and presentations at city council or county board meetings. Other ways to engage people include pop-up events (going to where people gather), walk or bike audits (this is particularly useful if there are community activist groups in this space), virtual open houses, inclusion of kid actives at open houses so people feel like they can bring their children, and interactive surveys. If there is a property owner, business owner, elected official, agency representative, interest group representative, etc. that you have not received a response from but believe they have reason to be interested, consider reaching out to them personally.
The conversion of Center Avenue in Moorhead, Minnesota, from a 4-lane to a 3-lane roadway (road diet) is one example of a project where understanding the different stakeholder groups was essential to a successful project. Center Avenue is in the downtown core of the City of Moorhead and a road diet was being considered on the five-block stretch starting at the Minnesota/North Dakota border. Occupying 40% of the adjacent space to the corridor is the Moorhead Center Mall which has a unique ownership arrangement between individual business owners and the City of Moorhead, which owns the hallways, parking lots, and parking ramp.
A top priority was including the diverse perspectives of multiple mall owners, active biking and pedestrian groups, residents concerned about the downtown core, and adjacent business owners who would benefit from on-street parking. Their unique perspectives, interests, and concerns influenced the final project. Ultimately, a decision was made to implement the road diet to add much-needed bicycle connectivity through downtown Moorhead and on-street parking where feasible. However, the story of Center Avenue is far from over as the city is in the process of completing a downtown master plan.
The conversion of Center Avenue in Moorhead, Minnesota, from a 4-lane to a 3-lane roadway is an example of a project where understanding the different stakeholder groups was essential to a successful project. A top priority was including the diverse perspectives of multiple mall owners, active biking and pedestrian groups, residents concerned about the downtown core, and adjacent business owners.
3. Creating a meaningful work plan
A solid game plan that everyone can embrace is critical in any corridor study. A good work plan includes:
- A defined scope, schedule, budget, and work breakdown structure (WBS)—i.e. who will do what, how they’ll do it, when they’ll do it, why they’re doing it (how will product be used) and how much budget or other resources they have to work with
- Communications protocol, including lines of communications, format and filing requirements, approach to design decision making, and conflict management/resolution
- Risk management strategy that is focused on both risks and opportunities
- An objectives-based, stakeholder-engagement plan
Although a work plan is an incredibly helpful guide, remember this living, breathing document is only as good as the people who are managing it. Don’t assume a great transportation engineer will make a good project manager—instead choose a proven project manager. Ensure the work plan is developed in cooperation with team leaders (typically broken out by disciplines such as traffic, water resources, landscape architecture, etc.) Be sure the plan has been provided to all those who will need to follow it, no matter how much or how little time they may spend on the project. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this—if it’s not in the WBS, it’s not on the project.
We’ve done numerous corridor studies, and the most successful projects always include the same key ingredients:
- The right team: Understand the project well enough to identify the necessary team members, including key specialists.
- An objectives-driven stakeholder and agency involvement plan: Develop an understanding of each potentially affected party, determine what your objectives are regarding each party, and then develop an engagement plan using proven techniques to meet each objective.
- Robust work plan: Create a robust project work plan that will provide for sure footed progress and defensible outcomes.
About the authors
Pat McGraw is a senior transportation project manager based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has played a role in developing the quality management practices for our internal team as well as Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Angie Bolstad is a transportation engineer in our Minneapolis office. She is knowledgeable about all stages of the engineering design processes including preliminary design alternatives, computer aided drafting, and final construction.