State planning and transportation agencies continually face the escalating problem of increasing needs, coupled with limited financial resources to meet those needs. In this difficult environment, the importance of meaningfully involving the public in the decisions that shape the future of our cities and regions becomes even more amplified. Proactively working with the public to gain buy-in from the early stages of the planning process is one of the most effective strategies to reduce project costs. The traditional process in which state planning and transportation agencies have engaged the public are becoming less and less effective as public meeting attendance has consistently decreased. As technology continues to shape the way that the public communicates with each other and their government, new communication methods must be evaluated to ensure meaningful engagement continues to occur. The onus falls on state planning and transportation agencies not only to continue to provide the traditional methods of engagement, but to look for new and innovative ways to gain increased public participation in the planning process.
The traditional methods of public engagement will always be an important part of the planning process, but discovering the effectiveness of emerging technologies in order to develop new best practices for public engagement is the charge of the future. The Oak Hill Parkway project in Austin, Texas, provided a unique opportunity to test a new and innovative method to engage the public. This pilot project tested the effectiveness of re-creating a traditional open house in a virtual or online setting in order to provide additional opportunities for engagement and to understand what role emerging technology will play in the engagement process.