Restoring the Road, Reconnecting Communities

US 34 Flood Repairs

When a rainstorm of epic proportions hit Colorado’s Front Range in September 2013, the water washed away homes, cars and most of US 34 – the lifeline between Loveland and the tourist-dependent town of Estes Park.

While residents worried about their personal safety and property, Loveland businesses wondered how employees were going to get to work, and the town of Estes Park faced the economic realities of a downturn in tourism.

A commitment to reopen US 34 by Dec. 1, 2013, helped to ease uncertainty, and a public outreach campaign reassured residents that help was on the way in the form of a rebuilt highway.

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CDOT awarded the contract to Kiewit Infrastructure on Sept. 21 and, within 36 hours, the company had three people and three pieces of equipment on site to start work. One crew walked west from Loveland; the other walked east from Estes Park. CIG armed crewmembers assigned to manage the barricades with informational flyers to hand out to residents, business owners and tourists.

CIG worked with CDOT and Kiewit to conduct a public meeting regarding the status and future plans for repairs of the highway. Organizers hosted an overflow crowd of more than 150 people. Video streaming and recordings were also made available.

CIG and CDOT developed grassroots tactics, among them a 24-hour information hotline and website, to share information and field questions from canyon residents and others who use US 34. Another important element of the communications program was a weekly email update to residents still living in the canyon to share with their neighbors.

Less than one month into the restoration process, Kiewit crews had cleared enough debris and established a safe roadway to provide access to several media representatives to demonstrate the progress being made. Providing information to mass media outlets that they could in turn share with millions of people enabled CIG to maximize its outreach budget.

CIG worked with CDOT, Kiewit and Governor Hickenlooper’s office to host a highway opening event on Thursday, Nov. 21, marking the substantial completion of temporary repairs to US 34 a mere 10 weeks after the floods. Media outreach for this event, and updates throughout the repairs, resulted in TV, radio and print coverage across the state’s Front Range and into Northern Colorado. NBC national news also regularly reported on the progress.

The CIG team sprang into action, traveling the roundabout route, circumventing other highways closed by the flood, to meet the construction team on site in Estes Park. It was a complicated scene. Displaced residents pleaded for information about how and when they could return to their homes. Modern communications tactics, like websites, email newsletters and even PSAs via radio and TV would help later, but not in the beginning. Instead, CIG activated a grassroots community outreach program. The team identified influential and connected residents, answered their questions, provided updates, and dispatched them as messengers to their neighbors. A public meeting in Estes Park, for those who could travel there, was next. A town hall phone call, in which 3,680 people participated, followed. Even when there weren’t any construction updates to share, the CIG team offered residents a listening ear and emotional support.

It’s all about reaching the people who can reach 100 others.

The campaign was organic, personal and extremely effective – made possible by tight coordination and collaboration. Every day, CIG joined with CDOT and Kiewit crews on an early morning conference call to hear the latest. Residents in Estes Park, Loveland and everywhere along the way relied on communications that tracked closely with actual, on-the-ground progress. The repair of US 34, a “lifeline” route, helped to reconnect communities in the literal, physical sense. The companion communications program, thoughtfully planned and tirelessly executed, helped to keep people informed and heard in their time of need.

CIG’s work on this project earned the firm a PRIDE Award for Public-Media Relations and Education from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in 2014.