Rapidly growing communities are often faced with challenges and opportunities as the existing infrastructure struggles to keep pace with the surging population. It's not unusual to find communities where there is strong agreement that greater transportation capacity and additional bridges are needed, yet the challenge is often to gain community consensus on the location and aesthetic features. By involving the community in exploring the key components of a project, discussing options, and voting on preferences, Tallahassee-based Figg has been able to build community consensus and gain buy-in and support for new bridges.

Figg's community design charette process was used by the Emerald Coast Bridge Authority to engage the community in locating the next bridge in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. Levels of service on the existing bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, a main thoroughfare, are well over capacity. In 2004 more than 115 residents and business owners participated in the Authority's efforts to identify acceptable corridors for a new bridge and connecting roadway along U.S. 98.

During a day-long meeting, local residents were briefed on the various constraints—ranging from environmental issues to very limited affordable right of way; then armed with their own design tools, small teams of citizens worked to design solutions. Using large aerial maps, the teams drew alignments that they believed would be acceptable, yet protect the areas that would add the most to their community.

At the conclusion of the working session, each of the 12 teams presented its solutions to the other participants, resulting in an interaction of ideas and the opportunity to find common ground. Only those potential alignments that drew positive comments moved to the next phase of preliminary design and environmental study.

Participants indicated that being part of solving the challenges of the project created a unique understanding. This is one of the key steps in building consensus for a bridge that will be beautifully integrated into the community.

Linda Figg is president and director of FIGG.