Our first major public outreach project is up at K-TOC

and the early results are mixed but encouraging.

KDOT has undertaken a new approach to project selection. This summer the agency completed the Comprehensive Transportation Program, a long-range transportation plan that controlled KDOT’s construction and spending priorities for a decade. The CTP iwas a successor to the Comprehensive Highway program, also a 10-year transportation plan, so KDOT has operated on a long-range plan for more than 20 years. Now a new plan is required, and given the state of the economy, the scope and duration of the new plan is far from certain.

To ensure that KDOT is prepared for any eventuality, Transportation Secretary Deb Miller and her executive staff set out to create an ordered list of possible construction projects, scored on the basis of the project’s engineering parameters, its possible economic impact and a local consultation score developed during meetings with local advocates across the state. Ideally, the completion of this process will produce a tiered list of possible projects ordered by their perceived benefits to the state. Such a list will enable the agency to respond quickly to a wide variety of future funding scenarios.

Secretary Miller has required that the project selection pilot program be as transparent and accountable as possible, which–from my seat in the bleachers–makes this an obvious new application for K-TOC. We redesigned the community’s front page (kudos to Tom Paolucci, Marc Infield and the heroes at Leverage Software) to include links to discussion groups devoted to each of the state’s construction districts. In those groups are posted economic impact surveys for more than 160 proposed KDOT construction projects. These surveys were completed by our area engineers in consultation with local officials and transportation advocates. Here’s the Kansas City group. Here’s an example of one of the surveys from that group.

The posting of these surveys is merely the first step in a lengthy process. The next round of documents to be posted will be the engineering scores of all the projects. Next month I’ll be part of KDOT’s traveling local consultation group; we’ll travel across the state and collect local input on proposed projects. Those scores will also be posted to K-TOC.

The object of posting these materials to the community is to solicit public comments and questions about the proposed projects. The first round of documents went up last week and have generated some comments, although the early comments tend to address the utility of the whole project and not specifically the economic impact of the project. That’s probably because no one’s ever done this before; it will take some time to get everyone up to speed.

Other indicators look very good. Launch of the pilot project has prompted KDOT’s Director of Public Affairs, Julie Lorenz, to start blogging on K-TOC, and that’s terrific news. Increased community participation by agency executive staff can only be good for the community. Early indications suggest that the pilot program will drive sharply increased community traffic, which has been averaging around 75 visits a day; each of the first two days after the pilot surveys went up saw more than 300 visitors. And Tim O’Reilly dropped by last week. Nice to know the gurus are paying attention.

I’ll try to blog more frequently as the project develops. We’ll also be updating project process on Twitter @KDOTHQ.

Also new on K-TOC is a “blog” devoted to Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day, a national traffic-safety outreach campaign. KDOT’s Public Affairs staff booked 20 individual short essays on traffic safety that we’re running in a blog format on the community. It’s conventional push content, not a real blog, but it’s attracted some comments and drew a contribution from the Governor, so I’m calling it a win.

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Keep up the good work. It’s always great to see how people interpret transparency and it is god that both the citizens and the gurus are paying attention.