Communicating TSMO: The Examples of Colorado and California

Earlier this month, NOCoE conducted a peer-to-peer exchange on "Communicating the Future of Transportation," where we brought in state communications directors to discuss the role communications can play in TSMO. NOCoE focused on both internal and external communications needs, including change management efforts across entire agencies to successfully implement TSMO, as well as communicating the benefits of TSMO strategies to the users of transportation systems. Presentations focused on funding; both at the state level and through strategies such as tolling and P3s, TSMO implementation processes, and the role of communications around rapidly developing transportation technologies.

Communications has played a key role within the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) since the creation of its TSMO division in 2014, with a focus on program implementation via their change management program. Rather than focusing on marketing TSMO as a whole concept, the change management program communicated TSMO benefits, guidance and toolkits, and organizational and operational changes to employees around specific messages over planned time periods. Road shows, internal articles, and a variety of meetings were used in the process, which not only strengthened CDOT’s cultural awareness of TSMO, but specifically engaged employees down to the district level, where organizational change can frequently be most demanding.

Additionally, CDOT assigned a Communications Manager to work directly with the TSMO Director and ensure strategic communications is an essential component of TSMO projects from initial planning until project completion. All TSMO staff are included on project communications, whether it’s on large scale projects or communicating how fiber line instillations are impacting traffic. Regional communications staff are also integrated so they can communicate the needs and benefits around construction projects and roadway changes. This level and breadth of strategic communications is essential to clearly communicating the benefits of TSMO to roadway users and ensuring new projects to improve the transportation system are embraced by the public.

Though California (Caltrans) and Colorado are on different paths to TSMO implementation, communicating benefits is one area both states succeed in. Caltrans is still in the process of developing an integrated TSMO plan, but they’ve been deploying many TSMO strategies and procedures for years and the public is well aware of the benefits. To communicate these benefits, whether its variable speed limits, express lanes, or emerging technologies such as truck platooning or autonomous vehicles, Caltrans utilizes communications staff deployed across every district of California, leverages the almost 20,000 Caltrans employees, and deploys strategic communications tools via written materials, websites, social media, Caltrans News Flashes. Local public information officers (PIOs) work closely with headquarters on project or technology rollouts on both public statements and media engagement, as well as working with the DMV to provide materials and information. Caltrans employees are engaged via the director’s town halls and videos, or through internal performance reporting to not only communicate benefits to Caltrans employees, but ensure those almost 20,000 employees can effectively communicate the benefits of technology deployments and roadway improvements to their own communities.

Perhaps the most effective communications tool for Caltrans has been their News Flashes, short videos highlighting new technologies or roadways improvements. These News Flashes are viewed via social media or picked up by the local media that directly communicate to roadway users the value and benefits of projects. A News Flash on automated warning systems (AWS) not only highlights the benefits of AWS, but teaches the public about the technology, whereas other News Flashes, such as one on the I-80 express lanes served to directly educate the public on how to use and interact with new technologies.

In just two days, the peer-to-peer exchange on Communicating the Future of Transportation, collected an extraordinary number of tools and strategies, such as these, that we are very excited to share with the TSMO community. In the next few months as we build resources on how strategic communications efforts can assist TSMO, we’re excited to feature the efforts of additional states, and we’re confident we’ll be able to assist your program, whether you’re facing challenges with funding, undergoing internal re-organization, or seeking to effectively communicate benefits to the public.