Kalispell, Montana proved to be an ideal venue for the 12th TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads, held in late September. Sponsored by the Transportation Research Board and co-sponsored by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the conference welcomed 250 participants from 22 countries who experienced low volume roads in northwest Montana firsthand. The conference provided 27 sessions covering 104 presentations, six hands-on workshops, and a field tour highlighting demonstrations of a variety of low volume road management tools.
The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at Montana State University served as the local host and worked on site details for two years in preparation for this enormous event. WTI researchers Laura Fay, Natalie Villwock-Witte, Jaime Sullivan, Ahmed Al-Kaisy, and Matt Ulberg, Director of Montana Local Technical Assistance Program presented at the conference.
Conference organizer, David Jones, University of California, Davis, was excited that the conference took place in a rural setting where the knowledge shared is most needed. “Since 1975, this conference has been held every four years and provides a forum for the exchange of information and innovative ideas on all aspects of low volume roads,” said Jones. “This year’s conference continues that long tradition. Kalispell, with Glacier National Park nearby, is a beautiful area of the country and our local hosts excelled in providing a great venue with plenty of opportunities for activities.”
Colin Brooks and Rick Dobson of Michigan Technological University demonstrate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during the LVR field tour.
The WTI Road Ecology program, in partnership with the MSU Gianforte School of Computing, has completed a second phase of research on a system to simplify how wildlife vehicle collision (WVC) data is collected and shared among federal agencies.
The research program is sponsored by the National Center for Rural Road Safety, the National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – the federal agencies want to develop and coordinate the use of a WVC Data Collection System with other federal land management agencies, state and local agencies, and other organizations. During Phase 1, Road Ecology researchers Rob Ament, Matthew Bell, and Kelley Hall, collaborating with MSU Computer Science professor Mike Wittie, developed a pilot WVC system called ROaDS – Roadkill Observation and Data System. It collects WVC roadkill observations and is available to all Department of Interior (DOI) agencies and bureaus.
During Phase 2, the research team developed recommendations for preliminary national standards for WVC data collection systems, which will promote collection and sharing of consistent data among agencies and partners. The team also made recommendations to modify the ROaDS survey (used for data collection) so it is shorter, easier to use, and more efficient. As part of the development process, team members determined that ROaDS can provide a valuable research function – it captures the observer’s route, how long it took to complete the route and each individual observation made while on that route. Phase 2 also included outreach activities, in which team members began to engage other agencies and organizations to jointly develop national standards for WVC data collection systems via meetings, presentations, and workshops at national conferences that will be continued in Phase 3.
One of the country’s leading newspapers consulted a WTI researcher and several of our road ecology publications for a national feature story on wildlife crossings. “Retrofitting busy highways to let wildlife travel safely, too” explored national and state initiatives to identify wildlife corridors and enhance crossing structures such as underpasses and overpasses. The Post interviewed Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament, who discussed the potential long-term genetic consequences of highways that restrict wildlife movement and connectivity. The article also cites WTI/Montana Department of Transportation research on wildlife crossings on US 93 in Montana, and a cost-benefit analysis study that documented the direct and indirect costs of collisions with large animals.
WTI Mobility researchers Rebecca Gleason and Danae Giannetti traveled to Fort Smith, Arkansas last week to help launch a rural transit hub feasibility study. They gave an overview presentation to the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is partnering with WTI on the project along with Western Arkansas Planning and Development District. The goal of the project, which is sponsored by a grant from the National Association of Development Organizations, is to investigate whether it is feasible to create a “smart” transit hub to connect rural communities in western Arkansas with larger metropolitan areas. The meeting was covered by local news outlets, including the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: “Frontier MPO in Fort Smith talks rural transit.”
At the end of September, Montana State University announced that research spending for the 2018-2019 fiscal year set a new record of $138 million. “MSU records yet another strong year for research” notes that research expenditures were up more than 9% over the previous year, and gave a shout out to high performing departments and centers, including WTI: “The Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering had research expenditures of $18.3 million, led by its Western Transportation Institute, Center for Biofilm Engineering and Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.” WTI Interim Executive Director David Kack added “We’re very proud that WTI ranked #4 of all organizations at MSU in terms of research expenditures. We had an increase in expenditures of 33.5% over FY 18, an increase of almost $2 million, which is due to the hard work of the entire WTI staff.”
The Jackson Hole News and Guide has published “Bridging a future for wildlife,” a feature article on proposed wildlife crossings structures for Wyoming highways. In the article, WTI Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament discusses how crossing structures can be highly effective in reducing collisions between vehicles and large mammals, especially if the locations are carefully sited and the structures are designed to meet the needs of the target species. WTI has conducted wildlife mitigation planning in Wyoming; Marcel Huijser, Rob Ament and the rest of the Road Ecology team collaborated on the development of the Teton County Wildlife Crossings Master Plan, completed in 2018.