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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Outreach on a Streetcar Project

Title: Public Outreach on a Streetcar Project
Phase: Planning, Design, Construction
Category: Management
Date: July 2023

1. Background

Description of Tempe Streetcar Project – Valley Metro (VM) is responsible for the development and operation of the Phoenix region’s light rail transit (LRT) and streetcar system. The initial 20-mile LRT line opened in December 2008 and has since been expanded to 28 miles. Two (2) additional LRT expansions totaling 7 miles are in the construction phase. VM and the City of Tempe initiated construction on the Tempe Streetcar Project (TSC) in June 2017 and opened the TSC to revenue service in May 2022. VM received FTA participation in the amount of $75.0 million through a Small Starts Grant Agreement (SSGA) to construct the TSC. The total project budget for the TSC is $192.4 million.

The TSC is 3.0 miles in length from the first station on Rio Salado Parkway to the last station on Apache Boulevard and includes 3.6 miles of single and double track located at-grade in the medians and the outside lanes of existing streets. Six (6) 112-passenger streetcars serve the route, operating in a combination of exclusive guideway and mixed traffic flow. The TSC intersects the existing LRT network at two (2) locations along the streetcar alignment where patrons may ingress and egress the LRT and streetcar networks. A portion of the TSC runs off-wire and operates using on-board batteries. Fourteen (14) stations have been constructed and are similar to Valley Metro bus stops. Station amenities include a shelter, level boarding platform, lighting, trash receptacle, map, advertising panel and public art. The TSC links Tempe Town Lake, Downtown Tempe, several destinations around Arizona State University’s (ASU) campus and existing and future employment and activity centers. The City of Tempe is very transit-oriented, in part due to Arizona State University student ridership. The City is also home to various sporting and cultural events held throughout the year.

Valley Metro Responsibility for 3rd Party Utility Relocations - The State of Arizona has placed the financial responsibility on Valley Metro, and ultimately the transit project itself, for the relocation of utilities conducted on transit projects. That requirement applies even if the utility provider does not have established prior rights. The cost of designing the relocation is also the responsibility of VM and the transit project. Per legislation enacted by the State of Arizona, Utility providers include public service corporations, agricultural improvement districts, licensed cable television systems, telephone line or telegraph line corporations or persons engaged in the generation, transmission or delivery of electricity, natural gas, telephone, cable television, telegraph or water services, including any political subdivision or agency of the State of Arizona.

2. Lessons Learned

The Need for a Strong and Effective Outreach Plan - The TSC was the initial streetcar service constructed within VM’s transit network. The streetcar mode was selected over the LRT mode due to its compatibility with the City of Tempe’s downtown atmosphere, smaller footprint, and its ability to run off-wire through its historic sections of the downtown area. Although the streetcar mode was new to the VM public transit system, a large percentage of residents in City of Tempe are transit savvy and use the LRT system. Though considered a larger city in the region by population, the City of Tempe has a small-town feel and constituents are able to reach out to city councilmembers personally. VM found that Tempe stakeholders are very connected to their City leaders.

VM and the City realized that a strong and effective outreach plan would be needed to ensure the various project stakeholders including the general public, area businesses, Arizona State University and its student population, and event sponsors, receive timely communication and that project staff would be available to promptly address issues and questions.

VM’s outreach team for the TSC consisted of two (2) outreach coordinators and one (1) business coordinator. The City of Tempe assigned a Public Information Officer (PIO) to facilitate coordination among VM’s outreach team, the contractor and the City. Staff were assigned to the project based upon applicable expertise and personal experience within the project area. VM found it beneficial for its outreach team to reside near the project. VM also required the construction contractor to provide a PIOto assist the outreach team. The contractor was able to provide project stakeholders with up-to-date construction status and provide expertise in describing construction sequencing and expected impacts. Weekly meetings were held between public safety, City PIO, Contractor PIO, and VM and City project and outreach staff. VM’s Operations and Maintenance staff were brought into coordination meetings during the planning, design and construction phases.

The Outreach Approach Taken by VM:

The following six (6) components set the foundation of the outreach approach used by VM and the City of Tempe:

  1. Set appropriate expectations with the public. Be upfront and candid with impacts that can be expected, particularly during construction. Be empathetic to the challenges that construction brings and provide beneficial mitigations when possible. The outreach team’s motto was to “under-promise and over-deliver”.
  2. Develop and Maintain Comprehensive Contact Information - Ensure the entire outreach team is maintaining up-to-date stakeholder contact information, particularly e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. VM found that very beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic when meetings and in- person contact were not available.
  3. No alignment/project is the same. VM initiated public outreach on the TSC knowing that outreach in the City of Tempe would look and feel differently than outreach on other projects that VM had completed or were in progress. VM also knew that as a college town, streetcar safety would have to be a high priority. Tempe is a very transit-oriented city, so VM embraced that and educated stakeholders as to how streetcar service would complement the other public transit modes in the area. VM’s outreach team remained open to opportunities and did not get stuck on, “this is how we have always done outreach.” – instead they allowed the community and City events to help create better opportunities for the outreach team to get in front of the stakeholders.
  4. Strategic partnering with other organizations. The VM outreach team partnered with various stakeholders during project initiation and continued that partnership throughout construction. VM also leveraged its partner organization’s events in addition to creating and managing its own events. Those stakeholders became project advocates, and VM was able to build upon and leverage those relationships throughout the project duration. As an example, VM received assistance from the Downtown Tempe Authority to obtain business feedback, inform businesses of potential impacts, and to make sure all communication was accurate prior to distribution. Additionally, VM’s Community Outreach Coordinator maintained continuous coordination with the Downtown Tempe Authority to utilize its connections with local businesses. The Executive Director of the Tempe Outreach Authority served on the Project’s Community Advisory Board, which provided direct monthly feedback from the area businesses to the contractor and outreach team.
  5. Have a flexible outreach plan. By keeping the outreach plan flexible, VM was able to adapt the plan to the unique Tempe community and demographics. In addition to the more traditional outreach methods such as open houses, design charettes and public meetings, VM partnered with local businesses to allow project staff to set up tables within those businesses to provide project information including fact sheets, current construction notices and fun VM promotional items to business patrons. This allowed for a casual/approachable conversation setting between project staff (VM, City of Tempe and contractor) and stakeholders where stakeholders could ask questions and provide their feedback. Participating businesses included coffee shops, restaurants and apartment/condominium buildings. Adjacent sidewalks were also utilized for distribution of materials and information. An example of where flexibility was required involved the COVID-19 pandemic. The reduced traffic in downtown Tempe during the COVID-19 pandemic positively impacted construction sequencing on the TSC. VM and its contractor were able to accelerate certain project elements due to the lower traffic volumes along the corridor. The outreach team was able to quickly amend its outreach plan to keep project stakeholders informed when the contractor took advantage of acceleration opportunities.
  6. Know what your own agency is doing within the community. This project was within an area where Valley Metro already runs bus and LRT service so the VM outreach team coordinated with team members that were providing agency outreach on other projects and other transit modes. The outreach team closely coordinated with its operations division during design and construction to ensure free flow of critical information between the project team and VM operations. 

The Effect/Benefit:

VM and the City of Tempe found that the overall outreach approach taken on the TSC Project was successful in keeping businesses and the general public informed throughout the project duration. The outreach components of the outreach plan gave elected officials within the City of Tempe tremendous confidence that their constituents’ concerns would be promptly addressed and that businesses in the area would be able to deal with the disruption that comes with the construction of a project of this magnitude. The strategic partnering and maintenance of contact information that the outreach team initiated early in the project design helped to build and maintain relationships with impacted businesses and other stakeholders. The project team coupled the outreach plan with the mindset that all outreach plans must be flexible to be able to quickly adjust to project modifications and schedule impacts.

3. Applicability

These lessons can be beneficial to agencies undertaking the development and implantation of a transit project in urban environments similar to the City of Tempe.

4. References