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Case Study For Public Affairs

Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber speaks at a project open house.

Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber speaks at a project open house.

You would think improving a major intersection that is chronically congested would be a no-brainer. But throw in the specter of a controversial coal terminal, months of heavy construction and a skeptical public and you have a classic case for a public affairs campaign. 

The intersection of Industrial Way and Oregon Way has become a critical choke point in Longview, Washington’s SR 432 Corridor that serves the city’s bustling industrial area and port.

“Traffic studies show congestion is bad now and will only get worse,” says Page Phillips, CFM’s senior public affairs associate. “But that doesn’t instantly translate into public approval of a project to lessen the congestion.”

Phillips has worked hand-in-glove with a team of engineers to engage key constituencies, provide accurate information and address specific concerns. “Our work is hands on,” Phillips says. “We are taking the project and its benefits to people, not waiting for them to come to us with questions.”

Her efforts have included convincing community residents that improvement of the intersection is needed because of future industrial development and regardless whether a coal terminal is built or not.  Another key component of her outreach has been to individual businesses along the SR 432 Corridor that will be affected by construction. She also has engaged emergency service providers, the school district and community leaders.

“There will be more traffic no matter what,” Phillips says. “We need a solution that makes the intersection work better and be safer for motorists, freight haulers, students and pedestrians.”

Major projects like this intersection improvement must follow federal and state regulatory processes, including an environmental assessment. The value of a concurrent public affairs campaign is to make those processes more personal and proactive. “My job is to talk to people, give them solid information and carry their concerns back to project leaders,” Phillips says. “People want to know what’s happening and want to be heard. That’s what I do.”