Japanese officials have recognized the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Interstate 70 public involvement efforts as among the nation’s best and plan to emulate it in their future transportation projects.
Three high-ranking Japanese transportation officials visited Missouri transportation officials and members of the Improve I-70 Advisory Group on Friday at the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center to discuss future transportation projects in Japan.
“We believe Columbia has done a good job at addressing the environmental issues concerned with this project and would like to learn from that,” Masahiro Nishikawa said. “We need to establish a framework to complete an environmental impact evaluation for our project and learn how to increase citizen participation with the project.”
Nishikawa described how their past transportation projects have only had limited public involvement, resulting in public opposition.
Their current project, called the Gaikan, involves building a 10-mile tunneled highway section that will pass through the Tokyo suburbs. The project will directly affect more than 3,000 homes and businesses and cost 120 billion yen, or more than $1 billion.
The Columbia section of the I-70 project is 18 miles long and could potentially affect 235 businesses at a cost of around $375 million, said Bob Brendel, I-70 outreach coordinator for the state Transportation Department. The total cost of the entire I-70 project is projected around $3 billion.
“We want to be able to gain the trust of the public,” Nishikawa said. “We can only do that by keeping our information open and making our decisions transparent, like Columbia.”
One way Columbia has worked with the public on transportation projects is by the creation of an advisory board for the I-70 project. The volunteer group of 22 is made up of elected officials, city and county staff members, neighborhood group leaders, environmental groups and business owners. The group was selected by the Osprey Group, an independent mediation organization based in Boulder, Colo. Osprey also mediates the group meetings.
“It was important for MoDOT to not run the advisory group, “ Brendel said. “Osprey is not from Missouri, so they can be more objective and don’t have a bias. They are able to make sure all sides are heard and keep the meetings on schedule.”
The Japanese delegation also will visit Boston’s “Big Dig,” San Francisco and Oak Park, Mich., during their 10-day tour of American transportation projects.