A Delphi Study to Identify Best Practices for Rural Community Engagement in Transportation Planning

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Public involvement is defined as a two-way communication aimed at providing information to the public and incorporating the views, concerns, and issues of the public in transportation decision making. According to U.S. Census data, 60% of U.S. counties are considered rural. Rural communities face unique challenges such as scarce resources, technological and geographical issues, and demographic shifts, which can limit effective engagement capabilities. Engagement strategies that are effective for urbanized and metropolitan areas may not be as effective for these rural communities. This study employed a mixed methods research approach to identify readily deployable practices for meaningful rural community engagement in transportation planning. The research methodology involves a literature review, interviews with supervisors from offices of community transportation, interviews with 24 community leaders in four case communities in Tennessee, and two rounds of Delphi community survey. The research process brought together all key stakeholders to build a true consensus of best practices to engage rural communities in transportation planning. Data analysis showed rural communities feel detached and unaware of the role of Departments of Transportation (DOT) in and their plans for community transportation. Engaging rural communities using social media and conducting virtual meetings can reach wider sections of the community. Lack of consistent internet coverage in rural communities, however, means this type of outreach cannot replace in-person engagement. Securing the support of community leaders, building partnerships, and having a presence in the community will increase trust in DOTs and foster better engagement. A list of recommendations is provided that will enhance rural community engagement for longrange transportation planning in predominantly rural states.