Think about the potential impact: The largest construction project in the history of Wisconsin smack dab in the middle of the state's largest metropolitan area. The four-year Marquette Interchange Project in downtown Milwaukee caused initial fear in even the healthiest of businesses, restaurants, shops and tourist destinations.
Despite the daunting challenges, businesses in the construction area were able to thrive with a coordinated effort led by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). WisDOT formed a partnership with downtown and out-of-area businesses and popular destinations to keep traffic flowing smoothly to and through downtown Milwaukee throughout the multi-phase project. What could have been an economic disaster for a busy downtown and lost time for transportation companies and leisure travelers, turned into a fine-tuned construction, communication and business success story.
"Change your approach, not your destination"
The key to keeping the Marquette Interchange viable during the massive multi-year project was to assure users that Milwaukee was operating "business as usual." Unlike a construction project in a small town or for a shorter time period, people in the Milwaukee area or out-of-towners could easily decide to go elsewhere to eat, shop or enjoy a long weekend. Faced with potential traffic delays or unanticipated detours, visitors and long-haul drivers might avoid the construction and choose to bypass the area. This could have proven costly to individual businesses as well as to the rebuilding of the entire downtown.
To overcome fears of the unknown, the project used the tagline "Change your approach, not your destination." Much more than a slogan, the marketing focus was to alleviate fears about getting stuck in traffic or not being able to reach your destination. Putting practical, up-to-date route information in the hands of users helped to promote the idea that there was no need to change your driving habits - whether for a night out, a getaway weekend, a business meeting or even for drivers just passing through.
The blanket message behind all the communication vehicles: you can easily get to where you need to be if you plan ahead.
From the Internet to outreach
Because of the long-term horizon, the campaign was developed to mesh with the multiple phases of the project and the variety of audiences. To meet the ever-changing needs, the communication effort was high tech, high touch and widely distributed.
As many as 300,000 people use the Marquette Interchange each day. Those drivers come from all directions at all times of day and night. There were daily users, such as those who need to travel to or through the project area to get to work. There were truck drivers who use the interchange as a route to get efficiently from points north, south and west. There were Milwaukee-area residents who regularly shop or dine in the downtown area. And there were tourists from other parts of Wisconsin and northern Illinois, who come to town to visit one of the popular summer festivals, museums or theater events.
To meet these diverse needs, the WisDOT campaign used targeted TV, radio and print advertising. The goal of advertising efforts was to drive people to the project's Web site, mchange.org (no longer active) to find a route that would get them to their location with minimal disruption.
The mchange.org Web site served as the hub of the entire communication campaign. Updated on a regular basis, the site offered an efficient, cost-effective way to deliver the project's current status. The Web site provided construction updates, real-time traffic information and a mapping tool for personalized route creation.
Those who made routine trips into the city could also download the TrafficBug. This application relayed traffic conditions for specific routes right to an individual's desktop. Given this information, a commuter could vary their "approach" to ensure the quickest route to a destination.
While the Web site provided slick tools for disseminating real-time information, the campaign did not overlook individuals without Internet access or who prefer a more personal approach. A 24/7 telephone hotline was available every day of the project for one-on-one answers to questions.
In addition, information was created for audiences who might ignore or be missed by mainstream media efforts. Community outreach to neighborhoods helped to get specific messages to these audiences in a timely manner. Attendance at community meetings and visits to local businesses, schools, churches and festivals ensured that everyone heard the message and received information to help navigate through the ongoing construction. Key materials were printed in English, Spanish and Hmong, with the focus on neighborhoods shifting as areas of construction moved into new phases.
A new standard for getting around during construction
Print materials - newsletters, brochures, rack cards - were also created to provide information throughout the project. Information and printed materials were distributed to businesses and residents in the Milwaukee area, throughout Wisconsin and to nearby states. Informational materials were also distributed to national trucking firms and other businesses that needed to navigate through the construction area.
Eight "Get-Around Guides" were created to represent each shift of the construction activity. The small-size cards provided easy user access to closures and alternate routes. The guides were distributed at local businesses, with newspapers, through mail when requested, and handed out at community meetings and neighborhood events.
First developed for the Marquette Interchange Project, Get-Around Guides have become the new standard in Wisconsin for a timely approach to communicating traffic flow changes and alternate route information.
Prepare for an early arrival
By combining efficient use of technology with a targeted approach to multiple audiences, communication efforts kept traffic flowing through the interchange throughout the project. The WisDOT construction and engineering project came in ahead of schedule and below budget. Businesses in the area achieved the same success. By putting helpful tools in the hands of interchange users, travelers continued to reach their destinations and patronize the thriving business community of downtown Milwaukee.