The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has begun the planning and development of a wildlife crossings bridge on Highway 17, a commuter corridor that passes through deer and wildlife habitat in the Santa Cruz Mountains. According to a recent article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Caltrans consulted with WTI’s Marcel Huijser during the planning process, and used cost-benefit analysis strategies from a 2009 WTI journal article co-authored by Marcel to assess mitigation options. In addition, WTI Road Ecology staff hosted two forums for Caltrans staff in 2016 to educate them on wildlife connectivity issues and mitigation options.
Many wildlife crossing structures are designed to create safe passage for large animal species. However, there is also a need to reduce the impacts of roads on small animal species, including terrestrial mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. One approach is to adapt road crossing structures that are designed for other purposes (e.g., drainage structures, bridges across streams or rivers, or livestock crossings) so that they are also suitable for small animal species. Through this project, Co-Principal Investigators Marcel Huijser of WTI and Kari Gunson of Eco-Care International will summarize design criteria for structures that provide safe passage across roads, as well as barriers designed to keep these species groups off the highway and guide them towards safe passage opportunities. The team will set up a central repository with case studies, plan sheets for structures and barriers, and lessons learned. The results of this effort will provide transportation planners, road designers, and road builders with a synthesis of the most current information about how best to provide safe passage across roads for small animals and reduce direct road mortality. Further information is available on the project page on the WTI website.
WTI Hosts International Workshop to Inspire Creative Designs
In early May, WTI hosted a group of engineers, ecologists, and landscape architects from Canada and the U.S. for a two-day workshop to create innovative designs for wildlife crossing structures. In particular, they were focused on whether a high-strength, fiber reinforced plastic could be used to build bridge-like structures over roadways. If feasible, using plastic structures could make it easier and less expensive to install wildlife crossing structures in more locations.
The workshop was led by Rob Ament, Program Manager for WTI’s Road Ecology research, and Nina-Marie Lister, Director of the Ecological Design Lab at Canada’s Ryerson University. Participants were split into two teams to create “competing” designs for prototype wildlife crossings at Hyalite Canyon and Bozeman Pass on Interstate 90. Also taking part were WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger, and graduate student Matt Bell, who is conducting research on wildlife crossing structures while pursuing a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering at MSU.
MSU News highlighted the workshop in a recent feature story, which is available on the MSU website.
The Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program provides fellowships to outstanding graduates in a transportation-related field to spend eleven months working directly with staff of Federal Land Management Agencies on key visitor transportation issues. The PLTF program began in 2012 and was modeled after the very successful Transportation Scholars program managed by the National Park Foundation (NPF) that serves the National Park Service (NPS). The program, managed at WTI by P.I. Jaime Sullivan, is mutually beneficial for both participants and agencies: recent masters and doctoral graduates gain a unique opportunity for career development and public service, while public land agencies gain staff support to develop transportation solutions that preserve valuable resources and enhance the visitor experience. The 2018 class of fellows will be stationed at the following three refuges:
- San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex in San Diego, California.
- Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Complex near Denver, Colorado.
- Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge near Detroit, Michigan.
Last week, the Jackson Hole News and Guide published a feature article on the Teton County (Wyoming) Wildlife Crossings Master Plan developed by WTI. The draft Plan, which was recently presented to County Commissioners, identified priority sites for wildlife mitigation and recommended site-specific solutions. As part of the plan, twelve sites were proposed for wildlife crossing structures to increase both roadway safety and habitat connectivity. Principal Investigator Marcel Huijser was interviewed for the article, which is available on the Jackson Hole News website.
Montana State University’s Wonderlust program will offer two free public presentations on innovative MSU research at the Belgrade Community Library this month. WTI Senior Research Scientist Craig Shankwitz will speak on driverless cars from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 31. Shankwitz will discuss work on driverless vehicles from the 1950s through today. He will include a current status report and a tutorial on how driverless cars operate, as well as a discussion of what’s next for driverless cars and their passengers.
For more information or to register, visit montana.edu/wonderlust and click on “view all offerings.” There is no fee to attend, but registration is requested as seating is limited.
On May 8, Laura Fay, WTI Program Manager for Cold Climate Operations and Systems, led a training session at the American Public Works Association (APWA) North American Snow Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. As part of the 401 Level Training series, Laura presented on Advanced Liquids use in winter maintenance operations. The North American Snow Conference is a leading national winter maintenance event highlighting the latest innovations, best practices, and successful strategies in winter operations and snowfighting techniques. With an emphasis on education for winter maintenance practitioners, the event packed 50 training events into three days!
Last week, Marcel Huijser opened the 2018 Australasian Network for Ecology and Transportation (ANET) Conference, in Melbourne, Australia with a keynote address entitled “Road Ecology – Are We Taking the Right Turns?” The Conference, co-hosted by the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand in Victoria, explored the theme “Connecting nature, connecting people.” Marcel also participated in a panel discussion of how technology and innovation influence transportation ecology research and practice, as well as field trips to view local road ecology projects. A profile of his work on animal detection systems, habitat connectivity, and of his role as a visiting professor in Brazil was featured on the conference website.
Laura Fay, David Kack and Natalie Villwock-Witte (PI) recently traveled to the Jasper, Texas area for six meetings related to the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) transportation voucher program. This pilot project will show how transportation vouchers can be used to provide basic mobility to those who have limited options. Meetings were held in Jasper, as well as Ivanhoe, Newton, Pineland and San Augustine. Similar to many rural areas in Montana, people in the DETCOG area often travel 45 miles or so (one way) for groceries, medical care, and other essential services. Currently, this pilot project is focused on those who are 60 years old or older. The long-term vision is to secure additional funding so that those with low incomes or a disability will also be able to use the voucher program.
The pilot program should start in May and will include approximately 25 participants. Demand for the vouchers already exceeds existing funding, so data from the pilot project will be used to reach out to potential funding sources. The WTI staff is supporting the DETCOG staff to ensure that this program can grow and meet the needs in this rural part of Texas. The new program was big news in the City of Ivanhoe – the photo shows the City marquee informing community members about the meeting to discuss the voucher program.
WTI was well-represented at the Montana State University graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 5. Congratulations to Amir Jafari, Ph.D., and Amir Jamali, Ph.D., who were awarded their doctorates in Engineering. Both students conducted transportation research at WTI during their graduate studies, under the mentorship of Dr. Ahmed Al-Kaisy and Dr. Yiyi Wang. Best of luck from everyone at WTI!