Public relations firm hired to alert motorist about changes to Ross Clark Circle

Traffic near Bauman Drive and Hartford Highway on Ross Clark Circle will be diverted beginning Friday evening

The ongoing construction project on Ross Clark Circle is utilizing more than the occasional fax to the media from transportation officials to keep the public informed on its progress.

An outside public relations firm has been hired to inform the public about the lane-widening and bridge construction project between Fortner Street and Bauman Drive. The “Strategy” firm is using Twitter, Facebook, the Internet, email and other forms of communication throughout the months-long project. Later in the year, the firm will post a live video feed of progress toward a relatively new “bridge slide” technique in which bridges will be constructed off to the side of Ross Clark Circle, then slid over a culvert on to the circle.

The reason behind the use of a public relations firm has to do with the innovative, but expensive, bridge construction technique.

The bridge slide construction technique is more expensive than the traditional bridge construction. However, Alabama Department of Transportation spokesperson Tony Harris said a traditional bridge building technique could force traffic off Ross Clark Circle near the construction area for months. The bridge slide technique is expected to cause a detour for just a few days, if that much.

The time saved for motorists could justify the additional cost of the project. More than 20,000 cars pass through the area in any given 24-hour period. Detouring that many cars for a long period of time would be a traffic nightmare.

The relatively new technique is being tried in Alabama for the first time. ALDOT received a $1,000,000 federal grant to use the technique, and the federal government wants to know if the technique was worth the extra cost.

That’s where Strategy comes in.

“The federal government wants to look at the efficiencies of all different aspects of a project like this,” said Jon Gray, partner with Strategy. “This is still quite new and the federal government is studying this to determine whether it should be used more often or less often.”

Gray said Strategy will be required to submit a detailed report at the end of the project.

“This is not so much about publicizing the novelty of the project, it is about educating the public,” Gray said. “There is a very intense communicative component to this project that must be served.”

The Dothan Bridge Facebook Page has about 1,200 followers. The Twitter feed  and the website  also provide information about the project’s progress. Gray said Strategy also uses social media to respond to questions from the public.

The lane-widening portion of the project is ongoing. Later, the bridges will be constructed and then moved into place. Workers initially hoped to complete the project by the end of October. If that doesn’t happen, it will be suspended and work will resume after the first of the year.

Either way, Strategy will use plenty of platforms to inform the public.

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