The need: In 2009, when the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced plans to save money by closing 25 of Virginia’s 41 rest areas, the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association (VHTA) approached Access for help generating public support to keep the rest areas open.
How Access helped: VDOT announced it would hold 11 public hearings throughout the state during March 2009, leading Access to undertake a “grass tops” effort to encourage strong public attendance – the goal was not just to get a lot of people to attend, but to get the right people to attend who could communicate VHTA’s message.
Access researched and personally contacted key leaders in localities statewide, including members of Chambers of Commerce, Town and City managers, County Administrators, and tourism officials, to encourage them to attend the meetings and provided them with talking points. Researching traffic and safety data in Virginia and other states, Access also developed fact sheets to provide insight into the negative impacts of closed rest areas.
Access contacted media near each scheduled hearing, and attended all hearings in key area, managing media requests on site. The firm also created a Facebook Cause page that attracted more than 1,000 followers.
- Elected officials and tourism & economic development leaders responded favorably, attended the hearings and spoke in favor of the rest areas.
- Hearings in key areas were fully attended, some standing room only
- The state’s top dailies – Virginian Pilot, Richmond Times Dispatch, Roanoke Times, the Associated Press, as well as in community newspapers, news/talk radio stations and CBS, NBC and ABC television affiliates in each market reported on the issue.
- Ultimately, six of the rest stops slated for closure – including many in the dangerous Interstate 81-corridor were spared.
- VDOT amended rules for truck parking along exit ramps to enable truckers to get required rest breaks
- Both candidates for governor ran on platforms to re-open rest areas
- Governor Elect Bob McDonnell announced in December 2009 that the rest areas would reopen early in 2010.