Make Way for Change: Aligning Communication and Construction to Keep People Informed

US 36 Improvements and Expansion

In 1951, US Highway 36 between Denver and Boulder opened as a four-lane toll road. Bonds were paid off early and the tolling infrastructure removed in 1968. Fast forward 40 years, and residents and commuters in Denver, Boulder and every municipality along the way were calling for structural upgrades and traffic-mitigating improvements.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) conducted an extensive environmental impact study, and announced that it would initiate major improvements to the roadway. Funding came via CDOT’s first-ever public-private partnership (P3), an innovative tool for financing infrastructure projects that puts the majority of the financial risk – and rewards – for construction, maintenance and toll collection on a private company.

Building upon six years working together on communications about the environmental impact study, CDOT again turned to CIG for help with a public information program about construction. CIG envisioned the communication strategy from start to finish; embedded on-site with other communicators, CDOT, the engineers and construction crews; and took unexpected events in stride to keep residents, commuters and other important stakeholders up to speed on the project.

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Prior to construction, CIG designed the “Choose Your Move” brand mark, look and feel for all project communication materials. The logo visually and concisely communicated the different choices for transportation – bus, HOV, bike and single-passenger vehicle – to be improved on and made possible by the US 36 Express Lanes Project.

The overal goal of project communications was to feed the public a steady diet of timely, easily accessible project information via existing channels. CIG also choreographed mediagenic events around project milestones, such as a groundbreaking reception, bridge demolitions and openings, bikeway and bridge openings.

Together with CDOT and the contractor, CIG coordinated and publicized a series of public meetings to inform people who lived, worked or commuted in the construction area about what to expect. The meetings provided a venue for critical two-way communication between project planners, the contractor and the public before the team folded social media into the campaign.

CIG took the lead in addressing various public information crises during Phase 1 of construction, including developing a targeted and transparent fact sheet to correct misinformation about ownership of and profit from the highway project. A simple and straightforward response – restating and elevating the facts – quickly quieted the commotion.

By collocating, CIG made sure that timely and transparent public communication was always a part of project plans. Three CIG staffers worked on site, shoulder to shoulder with CDOT and the construction company responsible for the US 36 Express Lanes Project – one person full time, and two others for portions of every week of Phase 1 from 2012 to 2015. This proximity was essential to a coordinated campaign. The CIG team was mere footsteps away when it came time to prepare CDOT spokespeople for interviews and public meetings, and when problems arose.

Come to us with any problem, at any point in the day, and we’ll figure out a way to help.

Experience in construction formed the foundation for CIG’s work on the public information campaign for Phase 1 of the US 36 Express Lanes Project and public education surrounding the opening of the toll lanes. In the process, CIG built considerable expertise in creating awareness and understanding about public-private partnerships, which the team takes into its work communicating about Phase 2 of the project.