State Capitol Week in Review – August 14, 2020

LITTLE ROCK – The Transportation Department is upgrading its web site to make it easier for Arkansas drivers to follow the progress of highway construction projects.

At a recent meeting, the Highway Commission Review and Advisory Subcommittee went over some changes recommended by a private consultant, specifically about the Transportation Department’s communications with the public on the status of construction projects.

The consultant called the department’s communication with the public “disjointed and inconsistent.” In response, the department director said that the department was in the early stages of redesigning its public website. While much current information about projects is available, she agreed that the website was disjointed because you often have to go to several different pages on the website to find out details about a project.

The department’s new website will be a lot more user friendly, she said, and a goal is to provide “one stop shopping” for viewers seeking specific information about a specific construction project.

One cause of the disjointed nature of the website is that it categorizes some projects according to their funding program, and the public isn’t familiar with those programs.

The new department website may have a function that allows viewers to click on a map, to find out about a particular stretch of highway. It used to have a similar function, but the technology became outdated.

The redesigned website should be available to the public by the end of the year, the director said. Once it is up and running, it will take personnel to keep information fresh and answer questions. The extent to which the public can interact with staff is an issue for any public agency or private business. As one legislator pointed out during the discussion, some people who ask questions also have all the time in the world.

Legislators asked about how information would be updated on the new website. Manually updating a web page can allow information to quickly become outdated, which creates more frustrations with viewers. The website should automatically input data as it is entered throughout the state by engineers and project managers, a legislator said.

Lawmakers are keenly interested in the Transportation Department’s communication strategy because they often are the first person a constituent contacts with questions about orange barrels and traffic delays caused by highway construction.

Legislators said that a frequent question from constituents is how soon a project will be finished. Knowing the completion date makes it easier for people to cope with the frustration of traffic delays. The Transportation Department director agreed with the private consultant that there is room for improvement in the website.

However, she pointed out that some of the consultant’s recommendations appeared to involve removing people from the equation and using technology instead. That is a trend commonly experienced nowadays by customers trying to call a business and being required to dial through a long menu of options. Eventually the customer realizes they can’t ever reach a real person, the director told legislators.

“It’s very important when it comes to our roads that people can get a hold of a real person easily,” she said.

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