By combining the psychosocial and social impact assessment model, this study explores the complex interrelationship between public reaction and social impacts in construction projects via the structural equation modeling. A road construction project in Wuhan, China was selected as case study and a face-to-face interview survey was conducted. Results showed that public reaction occurs through a chain of events rather than one-time independent event. This study revealed that inefficient communication is the most critical risk where public awareness plays a mediation role. The low level of awareness leads to limited knowledge, which in turn results in irrational behavior. Furthermore, a closer residence, high-level dependency and greater change in living tend to attract more concerns on project impacts. This calls for the change of paradigm of social impact assessment in construction projects from the engineering-oriented to the people-oriented approach. This provides useful inputs to facilitate the public participation and alternative analysis.