Committee on Transportation Communications (TransComm)

AASHTO Liaison
Maggie Kasperski, Marketing & Communications Manager

A History of the TransComm Annual Meeting

What was the National Transportation Public Affairs Workshop?
The National Transportation Public Affairs Workshop (NTPAW) was a meeting held annually by communications staffs of state DOTs around the country. The workshop evolved into what is now known as TransComm, the AASHTO Committee on Transportation Communication.

Today, each member state in AASHTO is entitled to membership on the committee, a role usually filled by the head of the agency’s public affairs or communications office.

How Did NTPAW Originate?
In 1959 several highway industry groups, including the American Road Builders Association (ARBA) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), organized an autonomous public information group known as the Better Highways Information Foundation (BHIF). BHIF, in conjunction with what was then the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), sponsored a “Public Understanding Workshop” in Washington in February 1961. This workshop was held primarily as a means of establishing contact with state organizations interested in publicizing and promoting the highway program. The “Public Understanding Workshop” was also used by the BHIF as a means of enlisting support for the first National Highway Week. BHIF tried to line up cooperating organizations, both public and private, in every state.

On the heels of the 1961 meeting, BHIF, in cooperation with AASHO, held subsequent workshops in 1962 in Kansas City, Mo., and in 1963 in Washington, D.C.

In 1964 BHIF went out of business. AASHO and ARBA reached an agreement to assume responsibility for the workshop, and the 1964 session was held in New Orleans, La. AASHO agreed to sponsor National Highway Week and ARBA agreed to sponsor the workshop. Under this arrangement, AASHO continued to encourage and assist in the workshop program. It became the custom for a state highway department to take responsibility for local workshop arrangements, and meetings of the AASHO Subcommittee on Public Affairs were regularly held in conjunction with the workshop.

Through 1964 the arrangement worked well. In an effort to attract attendees from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia–notably absent from earlier meetings–ARBA decided to hold the 1965 workshop in Cincinnati, Ohio. The strategy worked and all four states were represented. In preparation for the 1966 meeting in Austin, Texas, Tom Taylor of the Texas Highway Department suggested that workshops would work better with the active support and collaboration of the host state highway department and produced a strong Austin program to prove his point. That set the precedent for future workshops and the state highway departments were very active for the 1967 meeting in Seattle, Wash., and the 1968 meeting in Hershey, Pa.

By 1967 it seemed desirable to formalize the organization of the workshop by bringing it under the umbrella of the AASHO-ARBA Joint Cooperative Committee. To that arrangement, the chairman of the AASHO Public Information Subcommittee became, ex officio, the AASHO co-chairman of the AASHO-ARBA Subcommittee. The 1967 workshop in Seattle, Wash., and the 1968 session in Hershey, Pa., were both sponsored by ARBA.

Following the break-up of BHIF in 1963, ARBA operated an extremely under-funded public information program with very little money budgeted for the workshop. By 1969, however, the program that became The Road Information Program (TRIP) was emerging. This made it possible to pump significant dollars into the 1969 meeting in St. Louis, Mo., remembered as “the confrontation.” ARBA paid some speakers, upped the printing budget, and generally made an effort “to do it right.” This “confrontation” meeting with environmentalists was considered a great success by most who attended.

The 1970 meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, was sponsored by the Subcommittee on Public Information of the AASHO-ARBA Joint Cooperative Committee. At that session ARBA tried to answer the complaint that the leadership of AASHO was not sufficiently involved by putting the workshop under the wing of the AASHO-ARBA Joint Committee (later the AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Joint Committee).

The results was a confusing assemblage of committees: ARBA had its own Public Information Committee; the AASHO Public Information Subcommittee was beginning to take form; the workshop had an advisory committee; and the Better Roads and Transportation Council was emerging.

At the 1971 meeting in Biloxi, Miss., with the AASHO-ARBA Joint Cooperative Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Information as the sponsor, Gene Robbins of ARBA boosted attendance by scheduling a meeting of executives of affiliated state contractor organizations to coincide with the workshop. Of the 115 in attendance, 59 came from highway and transportation departments and 56 from the industry.

During the 1972 Miami meeting of AASHO Administrative Subcommittee on Public Information, agreement was reached to establish a nine-member steering committee to develop objectives for the larger group and to assist in other ways in strengthening public information activities for the highway program. A subsequent meeting of the AASHO Public Information Steering Committee in Richmond, Va., determined that the chairman would write Randy Russell of ARBA, offering to assist him in planning the annual public information workshops. The AASHO Public Information Subcommittee secretary would coordinate the input of the Public Information Steering Committee in planning the workshops in cooperation with ARBA. The result, in the 1972 meeting in Milwaukee, Wis., was sponsored by the Joint Cooperative Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Information. Fifty people attended from 32 states.

The AASHO-ARBA and AASHO-AGC Joint Cooperative Committees were merged in 1973 and the Cooperative Committee’s Public Information Subcommittee sponsored the Santa Fe, N.M., workshop. A full day of the program was given over to separate meetings of the AASHO Public Information Subcommittee. Eighty-one attended; 48 from highway and transportation departments and 33 from the industry. In 1974, in response to a request from AASHTO, a mid-year meeting was held in Richmond, Va. The AASHTO Public Information Subcommittee had been the only AASHTO committee not conducting regular mid-year meetings. In an effort to shorten the length of AASHTO annual meetings, the AASHTO Executive Committee recommended committees hold their working sessions at other times and limit AASHTO Annual Meeting activities to abbreviated reporting sessions. A second meeting in 1974 in Nashville, Tenn., sponsored by the joint committee in cooperation with the Better Roads and Transportation Council, discussed the advisability of ending the series of annual public information workshops. The suggestion was made that a workshop not be held in 1975 if the BR&TC could arrange to participate in the AASHTO Public Information Subcommittee meeting in San Antonio the following May. The mid-year meeting of the AASHTO Public Information Subcommittee was held in San Antonio, Texas, in May 1975.

In August 1975 a workshop sponsored by AASHTO-ARBA-AGC was held in New Orleans, La. This session settled some long-term concerns of both the AASHTO and BR&TC representatives. Following the 1973 Santa Fe Workshop, Tom Taylor, secretary of the AASHTO Public Information Subcommittee, was successful in instituting a separate meeting in addition to the workshop so AASHTO public information professionals could have more time to discuss internal business. Those meetings were held in 1974 in Richmond, Va., and 1975 in San Antonio. State public information officers were encouraged to attend both meetings, but there was an evident problem in getting travel approvals for the additional trip. BR&TC representatives also wanted more time to discuss their specific concerns. The solution, worked out in New Orleans, was to turn management of the meeting over to the AASHTO Public Information Subcommittee and the BR&TC. Under that arrangement, the 1976 workshop was held in Bismarck, N.D.

In 1977 the mid-year meeting of AASHTO Subcommittee on Public Information in Carson City Nev., attracted more than 30 public information representatives from 25 states, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. DOT and AASHTO. A motion was made that the Public Information Subcommittee conduct its mid-year workshop separate and apart from the joint industry workshop. A lengthy discussion followed in which it was generally agreed that the intent of the motion was to simply conduct subcommittee business at a meeting by and for public information people from AASHTO-member states in a manner similar to that in which the other AASHTO committees operated. The motion passed with only four dissenting votes. It was also at this meeting that Subcommittee Secretary Tom Taylor made a motion requesting the AASHTO Executive Committee to change the name of the Public Information Subcommittee to the Administrative Subcommittee on Public Affairs. The resolution pointed out that the term “public information” had become out-dated and no longer aptly described the functions and duties of some of the committee members. That resolution passes unanimously.

Since 1977 the National Transportation Public Affairs Workshop has served as the major working meeting of the AASHTO Administrative Subcommittee on Public Affairs, with sessions arranged cooperatively for combined sessions on topics of interest to both groups and independent sessions to address specific concerns.

In 2011, the last meeting of NTPAW took place in Des Moines, Iowa. The AASHTO Board of Directors changed the name if the subcommittee to the Subcommittee on Public Affairs, and the subcommittee became know as TransComm. In 2016 as part of an overall AASHTO committee reorganization, TransComm became a full AASHTO committee, formally titled the AASHTO Committee on Transportation Communications.

Location of NTPAW sessions:
1978 Denver, Colorado
1979 Portland, Maine
1980 Portland, Oregon
1998 Phoenix, Arizona
1981 Hot Springs, Arkansas
1982 Williamsburg, Virginia
1983 San Antonio, Texas
1984 Hershey, Pennsylvania
1985 Cody, Wyoming
1986 Osage Beach, Missouri
1987 Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
1988 San Diego, California
1989 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1990 Des Moines, Iowa
1991 Baltimore, Maryland
1992 Boise, Idaho
1993 Minneapolis, Minnesota
1994 Cincinnati, Ohio
1995 Park City, Utah
1996 Austin, Texas
1997 Atlanta, Georgia
1999 Alexandria, Virginia
2000 Crystal Mountain Resort, Michigan
2001 Juneau, Alaska
2002 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2003 Milwaukee, Wisconsin
2004 Denver, Colorado
2005, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
2006, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
2007, Tacoma, Washington
2008, Nashville, Tennessee
2009, St. Louis, Missouri
2010, Boise, Idaho
2011, Des Moines, Iowa

TransComm Meetings
2012, Raleigh, North Carolina
2013, Grand Rapids, Michigan
2014, Scottsdale, Arizona
2015, Annapolis, Maryland
2016, Charleston, West Virginia
2017, Denver, Colorado
2018, Biloxi, Mississippi