Communication breakdown: WI DOT spent $104K on roundabout videos


By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

BIG BUCKS: The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is planning to spend almost $350,000 on videos and an advertising campaign focused on roundabout safety.

MADISON, Wis. — Turns out, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation didn’t spend $30,000 in taxpayer money to produce two videos teaching drivers about navigating roundabouts.

It spent closer to $105,000, Kim Rudat, spokesman for the state DOT Northeast Region Office, told Wisconsin Reporter on Tuesday.

Throw in the cost of advertising, and taxpayers can expect to shell out $347,400 by the end of the year on the DOT’s campaign to encourage people to drive slow in roundabouts, Rudat said.

Steven Olson, communications specialist for the DOT, originally told Wisconsin Reporter in an email last week the state agency spent $30,000 on the two videos. Olson said in an email Tuesday he got that information from Rudat’s Northeast Region Office, which helped lead the project.

But Rudat says developing and producing the videos cost $104,800, and that some type of miscommunication must have occurred.

The $104,800, in addition to $71,700 in advertising spots in 2013, came from the $1.5 billion budget for the U.S. 41 project in Brown and Winnebago counties, which includes about 40 roundabouts. That fund consists of state and federal dollars, Rudat said.

The DOT spent an extra $160,000 this year in advertising to expand the roundabout campaign statewide, Rudat told Wisconsin Reporter.

The Northeast Region Office is also paying $10,900 for movie theater ads in October and December, according to Rudat.

The main 30-second video used in TV and movie ads features several matchbox cars traveling around an LP album spinning on a turntable.

The DOT also produced a different two-minute video that resembles something from the “Flintstones,” with several actors walking around in a circle with what appears to be cardboard automobiles hanging on their shoulders.

Both videos incorporate a twangy, county music-style song that reminds motorists to “take it slow.”

Rudat said he understands if people don’t like the videos or think they’re not the best use of taxpayer money, especially when the DOT is proposing $750 million in new taxes and fees in the next budget cycle.

But Rudat says the DOT has a responsibility to ensure motorists and passengers know the rules.

“We have an obligation for safety and we have an obligation to reach out to the public with messages, and we felt this was the right message,” Rudat told Wisconsin Reporter.

Rudat said his office took an “outside the box” approach in creating the videos, an effort to make sure they have staying power.

“We had one older individual come up to my partner in a public meeting and say, ‘I hate that video,’ but was able to accurately describe the video,” Rudat said. “My goal is not necessarily to have them like it, but I do want them to remember the message.”

Rudat also doesn’t think the educational videos would have the same influence had they been produced by some “high school kids.”

“We feel we got a good value for the dollar,” Rudat told Wisconsin Reporter. “We got a good product and an exceptional distribution on it, and the campaign continues to resonate. We’re proud of that. But at the same time, obviously there are critics, as well.”