Highway 520's media and construction communication manager enjoys hitting milestones in his role talking about how construction on 520 will affect, and hopefully improve, lives.

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Steve Peer

What do you do? I’m the media and construction communication manager for WSDOT’s SR 520 Program. My job is to talk with the media and the public about how construction on [Highway] 520 will affect, and hopefully improve, their lives.

How did you get that job? I think every day is an interview — so really I’ve been preparing for this job my whole life. My mother was a schoolteacher, and at an early age she was correcting my grammar and helping me become a better communicator. She really gave me a head start. I became interested in road transportation as a public information officer for WSDOT’s I-405 program. I gravitated toward the media and construction side of the their outreach program, so when WSDOT was seeking candidates for this position — I was ready, willing and able. And so excited.

What’s a typical day like? Each day is completely different. Some days I’m up at 3:30 a.m. to do early morning TV interviews about a project milestone; other days I’m out on a boat getting drone coverage of the new and old floating bridge. I’ve been in the depths of the floating pontoons, in city council meetings, in living rooms talking about future construction and in TV studios doing live interviews. I sit in highly technical meetings with our top-notch engineers, and behind the computer handling our Twitter account. I’ve done Facebook live broadcasts from my phone and used the same phone to call into construction coordination meetings with other state communicators. This spring, I helped the program open the world’s longest floating bridge as we hosted 50,000 people at weekend grand-opening events. Now the program is poised to build improvements to get drivers from the floating bridge to I-5. Bottom line: I can never complain about having a monotonous job.

What’s the best part of the job? The best part of the job is how construction relates to and affects the deeply invested public. I like to meet everyday people and showcase to others how their life interacts with [Highway] 520. For example, after we opened the new floating bridge, a 10-year-old girl, Santoshi Pisupati of Redmond, wrote us to express her experience walking on the world’s longest floating bridge for the first time. She said walking the bridge piqued her interest in the science, technology, engineering and math that went into its construction. To me, she was a natural to cut the ribbon when we opened the bike and pedestrian trail a few months later. After all, she represents today’s youth, and ultimately, what we’re building – a bridge to and for the future.

I also find it interesting to see how stakeholders and media like to get information, and how that rapidly changes, sometimes even on a daily basis. Ten years ago outreach was all about web content, press releases and email. Today we use Twitter, Facebook and text messaging to communicate — so now we’re communicating to each other within seconds instead of hours or even days.

What surprises people about what you do? Most people are surprised at how much work it takes to reach out to the public about a new corridor highway between I-5 and I-405. [Highway] 520 is a unique and vital stretch of roadway that connects Seattle to the Eastside over a lake and through a highly urban environment. So as we build improvements, we’re essentially partnering with a diverse group including commuters, boaters, neighbors, environmental advocates, legislators and the media.

Also, most folks don’t realize there is a lot of work ahead of us — some 10 years of construction as [Highway] 520 heads west toward I-5. By the time we’re done, our 10-year-old friend Santoshi will be 20, and, possibly, working on her engineering degree. We want to make it safe for her generation — so I plan on staying at this cool job. One milestone at a time.

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