Aesthetic Market Research Project
MnDOT cares for nearly 12,000 miles of highway roadway in Minnesota, which incorporates more than 255,000 acres of state land, including 175,000 acres of highway roadsides. In 2019, MnDOT hired Public Sector Consultants to conduct a market research project to get input from the public and key stakeholders on the appearance and visual quality of highway roadsides maintained by MnDOT. From dense urban corridors such as Interstate 94 to state highways that are the main streets of rural Minnesota, the maintenance and quality of highway roadsides impacts the attractiveness of the state.
Leaders in economic development and tourism underscore how highway roadsides contribute to first impressions of the state of Minnesota and by extension, our economic vitality. The report underscored highway roadsides as an important component of green infrastructure, quality of life and visual quality of communities across the state of Minnesota. The study weighed the importance of aesthetics relative to other priorities within transportation, and found that Minnesota highways do more than transport people and goods – they are an extension of a community’s values and aesthetic preferences.
Components of the 2019 market research project
- An online public opinion survey of 800 Minnesotans representative of the state - to gain insight into aesthetic perceptions of Minnesota’s state highways and corridors.
- (4) Stakeholder focus groups gathered aesthetic input from leaders in tourism, economic development, elected/government officials and business leaders.
- (7) Group Interviews were conducted in Greater Minnesota with Regional Development Commissions, tourism professionals and MnDOT district leaders to gather aesthetic feedback on MnDOT’s system, including Interstates, US and State highways.
Top findings and action steps
- The visual appearance of highway roadsides is important to quality of life (68%) in rural and urban (80%) settings, but improving pavement appearance/condition is the top priority;
- The condition of highway roadsides impacts perceptions of a community’s economic vitality, feelings of pride-in-community and perception of safety;
- Smaller communities need long timelines to plan/fund aesthetic enhancements (10 yrs.+) to align with local goals with MnDOT construction projects;
- Communities across Greater MN requested case studies on rural communities that have invested in enhanced aesthetics within construction projects to support rural economic development goals;
- Scenic Byway leaders validated the importance of preserving the scenic quality of roads/ improving scenic viewsheds and reducing visual pollution;
- There are extensive opportunities to enhance gateways in all environments (urban, rural, suburban, commercial districts, state entrances);
- Data validated Minnesotan’s preference for native plantings, and flowery pollinator habitat on highway roadsides;
- Elevated the importance of a “sense of place” in the aesthetic elements within transportation infrastructure;
- Elevated the importance of focusing on the human scale. Feedback centered on how green infrastructure, art and placemaking can support environments that encourage biking and walking, connecting aesthetic elements to public health and safety;
- MnDOT has an opportunity to engage large businesses that have a stake in Minnesota’s “first impressions” and how attractive Minnesota communities are for business investment;
- MnDOT should consider partnerships with arts and culture organizations – for design consultation, placemaking, artistic treatments, and other opportunities across the state.