CHICAGO: The Illinois Department of Transportation is planning an aggressive community outreach program working with two Chicago PR firms to discuss ongoing reconstruction work on a major highway.
Cushman/Amberg is handling media relations and marketing communications on the project while Danielle Ashley Advertising and Public Relations is handling a grassroots campaign.
PR spending with the firms is expected to be $2 million over a three-year period.
The campaign comes as the department has received some negative press coverage for disbanding a community task force it had been using to gather local input on the rebuilding of the Dan Ryan Expressway, which runs south from Chicago's central business district.
Kim Morreale, public information manager for IDOT, said the new campaign came about because of the task force's work. The panel was scheduled to disband after making recommendations to IDOT, she said.
"IDOT has always made an effort to reach out to the community, which was why we created the task force. We realized we needed an even more aggressive outreach effort," she said.
The two agencies were actually hired last November but now will intensive efforts, Morreale said.
Also planned are vendor fairs so minority-owned businesses and others can get information about doing business with the state.
One task-force recommendation was that 60% of work on the project be given to African-American-owned firms. Morreale said that would have been illegal; IDOT can't award contracts based on race.
Another issue that arose with the task force was plans to remove some of the entrance and exit ramps on the highway. The Dan Ryan passes through African-American neighborhoods and removing ramps in those areas raised concerns.
Morreale said the new grassroots PR efforts will seek to explain ramp plans more clearly and answer community concerns. The department has cut back on the number of ramps it plans to remove.
"We need people to understand why we're doing this project. It has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with safety," Morreale said. "The key here is not only educating the public, but being there to answer public concerns."
Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2007.