OCTA innovating to keep public informed during COVID-19
The agency has shifted to virtual meetings and other technology to update residents living near its various construction projects
While millions of Californians heeded state orders to stay home to help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), construction on public transportation projects continued, leaving the Orange County Transportation Authority to answer the question: What’s the best way to communicate construction updates to the thousands of residents living near its projects?
On the I-405 Improvement Project, the largest highway project under construction in the state, the COVID-19 pandemic forced OCTA to think creatively about how to best reach the diverse communities along the 16-mile stretch of project while ensuring the health and safety of employees and the public.
Traditional communication methods, including hosting information booths at community events, hosting in-person neighborhood meetings and canvassing fliers to residents’ homes, was no longer a viable option. But OCTA wanted to do more than relying on the project’s website, mobile app and social media presence to keep residents living in nine different cities throughout the project area informed.
Less than a week after the state issued its stay-at-home order in March, the I-405 Improvement Project hosted its first ever virtual neighborhood meeting to update residents living near major upcoming construction. The meeting was similar to the dozens that had been previously held, except instead of being at a community park, school or meeting room, residents were able to have their questions answered from the comfort and safety of their own home.
Since then, the project team has hosted nine additional virtual community meetings, directly communicating with nearly 450 people live. The meetings are all recorded and available online and have generated more than 2,000 views
I-5 South Team Goes Virtual
The outreach team focused on improvements being made to I-5 between El Toro Road and SR-73 in South Orange County also converted its typical approach of chatting with residents over donuts in local neighborhood parks. Instead, they also quickly set up virtual meetings.
At first, they held a virtual meeting and discussed the entire 6-mile project, but quickly discovered it was a bit too much information for many residents who wanted detailed information about the freeway bridge near their house or whether there’d be a sound wall in their neighborhood.
So, they switched to “Webinar Wednesdays” that focused on smaller segments of the project.
And the I-5 South team looked to see how TV entertainment shows engaged viewers while going online. Using that example, rather than having just one presenter talk to the camera, they decided to have two presenters from the project team interacting.
One acts as the host for the meeting, welcoming the audience and explaining how it will work, then allows the other to present the information. The host asks follow-up questions and sometimes even jumps in to ask for clarification that the audience might want to know.
The I-5 South project team also focused on branding by always wearing button-up shirts that prominently featured the project logo when on camera. Otherwise, they limited branding, keeping it informal and presenting from their homes, with books, photos and artwork in the background.
The approach intended to send a message: Thank you for letting us come into your homes (virtually) for the presentation – from our homes to yours.
The team found that the team approach from home led to more engagement and more informal questions from viewers – as if they were still just chatting over donuts.
When completed in 2025, the I-5 South project will add a regular lane in each direction of the freeway, extend a second carpool lane, widen bridges and make other improvements to ease traffic congestion for approximately 360,000 drivers who use that part of the freeway daily.
Technology Helping Find the Right Audience
In addition to the virtual events, OCTA began using geofencing campaigns to target hundreds of thousands of residents and commuters that live and drive through specific areas of the I-405 Improvement Project.
This method of advertising allows OCTA to select a 1-mile radius near major construction work. If someone enters that zone with their smartphone, laptop or tablet, they will begin seeing construction alerts on their favorite apps, including ones like Waze or Pandora.
To date, the project team has completed six of these advertising campaigns, reaching nearly 700,000 people.
Moving forward, as restrictions continue to ease, OCTA will continue to build on the success of these virtual outreach efforts as a convenient way to keep the community up to date on its many projects and programs.
The $1.9 billion I-405 Improvement Project will add one regular lane in each direction between Euclid Street and I-605, and a second lane in each direction in the center of the freeway from SR-73 to I-605 that will combine with the existing carpool lanes to form the 405 Express Lanes.
____________________About OCTA: The Orange County Transportation Authority is the county transportation planning commission, responsible for funding and implementing transit and capital projects for a balanced and sustainable transportation system that reflects the diverse travel needs of the county’s 34 cities and 3.2 million residents. With the mission of keeping Orange County moving, this includes freeways and express lanes, bus and rail transit, rideshare, commuter rail and active transportation.