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CITY OF EDEN PRAIRIE, MINNESOTA
Mayor Harris

Communications Team Updates Community on Traffic Congestion Sites

"Constant communication is instrumental in keeping residents informed partners rather than angry adversaries. Communication during a lengthy period of traffic disruption is absolutely key to making difficult and frustrating situations tolerable."
- Mayor Harris

Eden Prairie is a rapidly growing suburb located in the southwest corner of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area. Considered one of the fastest growing communities in the State of Minnesota, its population has increased from 16,000 residents in 1980 to almost 55,000 in 1998. Eden Prairie is also a job destination for over 50,000 workers, making it one of the largest employment hubs in the region. This incredible growth has generated the need for a wide range of road capacity improvements, from local residential collectors to major arterials.

Community Identifies Transportation as the Priority Issue

Because road improvements have not kept up with growth in Eden Prairie, there is a backlog of incomplete projects, principally on county- and state-owned arterials. Consequently, growing traffic congestion has become the most pressing issue for the community, as evidenced by citizen input from surveys, community forums, and focus group meetings.

In fact, in November of 1997, a focus group of over 100 randomly selected Eden Prairie residents gathered to identify issues facing the community over the next decade. Participants in five separate small groups discussed the following topics: Transportation; Preserving and Enhancing the Jobs Base; Protecting Natural Resources; Insuring Public Safety; and Preparing for an Aging Community. The topic that was rated as very important by each small group was Transportation. In fact, it emerged as the defining issue. Participants wanted city officials to coordinate transportation planning at the regional level and to communicate with residents about the various projects.

Traffic Congestion as the Challenge

The good news is that in 1998 several major highway improvement projects were initiated by the State of Minnesota and Hennepin County to help relieve congestion. The bad news is that with each project starting simultaneously, congestion levels are expected to peak, creating even more frustration within the community. These projects include:

  • Construction of the first phase of a freeway running through the "heart" of the city along an existing four lane state highway;
  • Reconstruction of Eden Prairie’s most congested bridge crossing where two major freeways interchange;
  • Major expansion of a county highway that serves about 12,000 trips per day; and
  • Construction of meter bypass ramps at several locations along Interstate 494.

Transportation Team Formed

In response to the concern voiced by community residents and to prepare for a summer of major road construction projects, the city developed a cross-functional transportation communication team. The team members - who have experience in transportation planning, engineering, project management, and public relations - developed a plan for assembling and disseminating information to residents and businesses of Eden Prairie. The primary goal of the team is to improve communication to residents and commuters about road closures, reroutings, and the various highway construction projects.

The following communication strategies have been developed by the team:

  • Timely transportation issues are published in the Eden Prairie News each week in a special feature called "Road Report";
  • Regular traffic information is now available on the city’s award winning Web site (edenprairie.org);
  • The Transportation Hotline (612/949-8312) was created to provide "up to the day" information about reroutings, scheduled road closings, expected delays, and alternative routes;
  • The city’s Community News - published every other month and sent to each postal patron in Eden Prairie - presents the broader scope of current transportation issues;
  • Information about projects is gathered by the Transportation Communication Team from various sources including -
  • Minnesota Department of Transportation project supervisors,
  • Hennepin County Transportation Department, and
  • Eden Prairie Engineering Division (a key source of up-to-date information comes from a city inspector, who visits each construction site daily and also attends weekly progress meetings at each site).

This data is disseminated through the various local communication outlets, allowing the state highway department to go beyond its usual network for public relations. Another benefit to the state has been the input of the city - through Police Department and Public Works department staff - regarding sign locations, scheduling of lane closures, and reroutings.

  • Staff members from the city’s Police and Public Works Service Areas attend weekly progress meetings at each construction site so as to improve internal communication.

The city is continuing to explore as many public information methods as possible to inform motorists about the transportation projects of 1998 and into the next millennium.

Outcomes

Contrary to what the city had originally expected, it has received relatively few calls from frustrated motorists about traffic delays caused by road construction. Also, the improved internal communication has resulted in a more well-informed staff that is better able to communicate current road conditions to the public. The city is now exploring ways to measure the effectiveness of the various communication efforts, including monitoring the number of calls received on the hotline and the number of hits on the Web site.

Contact: Steve Nelson, Communications Coordinator, Management Services, Eden Prairie, telephone: 612-949-8434 or e-mail: (Scnelson@edenprairie.org).

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