WTI recently completed a feasibility study for a “Smart” transit hub to serve an eight-county rural region in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. The study presents a menu of technologies and programs that help connect people experiencing transportation barriers in rural communities to healthcare, employment, and higher education opportunities.
WTI’s Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM) conducted the project in partnership with the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, and Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). NADO and WTI have been collaborating on a series of projects that assist rural communities with passenger transportation projects that enhance mobility options for residents.
“A traditional transit hub is a physical location where travelers can access multiple services in one place,” said Principal Investigator Rebecca Gleason; “while physical hubs are not always viable in rural areas, regional coordination and emerging technologies offer new ways to connect people to transportation information and services.” The study findings, which are highlighted in a newly released Executive Summary, include recommendations that can be implemented over time, such as hiring a regional mobility manager, exploring methods to connect more people with rides on existing systems, creating a 5-year transit development plan, and piloting a new transportation program. The Executive Summary and full study are available on the project page of the WTI website.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Alex arrived in Bozeman in 2018 when he transferred from North Seattle College to Montana State University. He is now pursuing a dual degree in Architecture and Political Science, with a long-term goal of working in public policy development, especially promoting sustainable growth models for small rural municipalities. This summer, he is excited to learn more about the links between transportation and urban design, and how a community can build a public transit system from the ground up.
Outside of school and work, Alex is an avid rock climber, backpacker, hiker, and “passionate follower of the Everton [UK] Football Club” (yes, that’s soccer to those of us on this side of the pond).
In late April, the Big Sky (MT) Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting focused on upcoming infrastructure projects in the region. WTI Director David Kack presented an update on the $10 million federal TIGER Grant, which will fund safety and mobility improvements along U.S. Highway 64/Lone Mountain Trail. WTI partnered with Gallatin County, Sanderson Stewart, and other regional stakeholders on the proposal that secured the grant. In his remarks, Kack emphasized the importance of this partnership in helping a rural region win a major federal award. Construction is anticipated to begin this summer on individual projects, to include new turn lanes, vehicle pull-out areas, wildlife crossing signs, a pedestrian tunnel, and recreational paths. More highlights from the meeting were covered in an article by Explore Big Sky.
Roads can be dangerous for California’s reptiles and amphibians, but a five-year study and new video show that there are effective strategies to help these animals cross roads safely.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released the results of the study this week in a comprehensive, evidence-based best practices guide that explains approaches and techniques for minimizing the impact of roads on fragile and diminishing habitats and species, including frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, lizards and snakes.
practices guide is the first of its kind for amphibian and reptile management
and conservation near California roads.
“It is no
longer a case of putting a few pipes and fences into the ground with a ‘fit and
forget’ approach,” said Tom Langton of Herpetofauna Consultants International,
Ltd., primary author on the guidance document. “This guide offers resource
managers in California opportunities and a clear plan to improve existing
crossings and build new ones to better standards where they are most needed. The guidance should be valued in
other states with similar wildlife-road issues and at the international level,
and amphibian species must cross roads to reach essential breeding and foraging
habitat, are slow moving or
are too small for drivers to see and avoid. Snakes and lizards may also be attracted to paved roads
that typically absorb and retain heat.
All these behaviors put them at high risk of vehicle collisions.
have a responsibility to maintain the highway system in a way that doesn’t
impede or disrupt wildlife, including the movement of California’s threatened
and endangered reptile and amphibian species,” said Caltrans Director Toks
Omishakin. “This study allows us to analyze feasible and
effective ways Caltrans can use ecologically-minded design to minimize
impacts on these wildlife populations.”
transportation agencies and wildlife managers have installed structures to
help amphibians, reptiles and other small animals cross highways safely, such
as tunnels under roads or barrier fencing.
agencies have made significant investments in these structures for many years,
there has been little research into how effective they are,” said Dr. Robert
Fisher, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) supervisory ecologist involved in the
study. “Management guidance informed by science is needed to help ensure this
critical infrastructure is safe for sensitive species.”
With these concerns in mind, the goals of the
collaborative project were to address this information gap using a logical
framework and to help transportation agencies like Caltrans plan barrier and
crossing structures more effectively.
To help Caltrans determine which reptile and amphibian
species to prioritize, USGS scientists created a ranking system for more than
160 species and sub-species, based on their vulnerability to road dangers.
Turtles, tortoises and snakes dominated the highest risk category. USGS also
developed a mapping system to allow Caltrans to easily find where the ranges of
high-risk species overlap with California highways and statewide conservation
efforts. Species ranked high and very-high risk of negative road-related
impacts include desert tortoise, California red-legged frog, sierra newt and
red diamond rattlesnake, among others.
Then, in a series of field experiments, the USGS
scientists investigated how reptiles and amphibians interact with different
types of fencing, how far high-risk migrating amphibians move along road
barrier fencing before “giving up” or finding a passage, and the effectiveness
of turnarounds at fence ends.
“We were happy to find that turnarounds at barrier fence ends were largely effective in changing the trajectory of many species to help lead them back toward a passage,” said Cheryl Brehme, the USGS project lead. A new video by USGS shows a California tiger salamander successfully make it to an underground crossing after being guided by one of these turnarounds.
“The elevated road-segment is really exciting,” said
Brehme, “because it can be made to any width and length enabling reptiles,
amphibians and other small wildlife species to freely move back and forth
across wide stretches of roadway.”
Caltrans used the results of these combined studies to produce the best management practices guide, which will inform the work of district biologists and engineers and will likely be useful to many other organizations involved in the planning and construction of transportation infrastructure. USGS has also released a comprehensive reportof its studies in conjunction with the new guidance document.
emphasizes that different landscapes – and different species – need a range of
solutions, and the needs of different species and their numbers will influence
positioning and sizes.
“Planning for smaller rare species calls for designs that take into account the sensitivities and needs of these understudied and often forgotten species” said Dr. Tony Clevenger of Western Transportation Institute, who led the development of the best management practices guide. The best practices guide was produced for Caltrans by the Western Transportation Institute of Montana State University with Herpetofauna Consultants International, Ltd and is based on existing knowledge and foundational studies by the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center.
California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
Amy Bailey, Supervising Environmental Planner
Ready to move more in May? Join the Go Gallatin Challenge, which kicks off on Monday, May 10! It’s a two-week competition among organizations across the Gallatin Valley and surrounding areas to replace drive-alone trips to and from work by biking, walking, riding the bus, teleworking, and carpooling.
that log at least 3 trips a week will be eligible to win prizes from one of our
sponsors. Working from home? This year, getting outside on your wheels or
feet for exercise will also count towards points.
As part of its “Transformation Tuesday” series, the National Park Service (NPS) profiled three fellows from the Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program who are currently serving NPS units or projects. PLTF Fellows are assigned to a federal land unit for one to two years, where they lead or support projects that enhance transportation options for visitors. Within the 2020 PLTF class, three Fellows are serving the NPS. (Read the full article on the NPS website.)
In a recent feature article, Montana State University News Service detailed the contributions of MSU students to future plans for Soroptimist Park in Bozeman, Montana. The students are part of the Community-Engaged and Transformational Scholarship (CATS) program, led by WTI, which matches projects identified and prioritized by Montana communities with students and faculty in relevant disciplines at MSU to assist in making those projects reality. During the Fall 2020 semester, students in two undergraduate courses in the MSU College of Agriculture gained hands-on experience working with the city of Bozeman on research, site visits, and design workshops, which culminated in recommendations and designs for renovating the park into a multi-use urban plaza.
The Clear Roads research program, which sponsors practitioner-focused winter maintenance research, is highlighting a recently completed severity index project on its website. For “Evaluation of SSI and WSI Variables,” the Narwhal Group and WTI collaborated to create a step-by-step guide to support implementing a severity index, paired with a flowchart tool that helps match users with existing indexes.
These tools will help winter maintenance agencies select the most appropriate storm severity index and winter severity index to compare storms across more than one winter season. “While a number of severity indexes exist, determining if you can apply or modify one for your needs or develop your own can be a daunting task. This guide and flowchart tool will support agencies in this task,” said Cold Climates Program Manager Laura Fay, who served as a co-PI. The final report is available on the WTI project webpage and there is a research brief on the Clear Roads project page.
Public Policy magazine In These Times recently interviewed WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser for an in-depth article on wildlife crossings. “Toward a World Without Roadkill” highlights efforts by residents and local organizations near Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reduce the rising number of bears, deer, and elk being hit by vehicles on Interstate 40. Marcel discusses how mitigation efforts such as wildlife crossings can have significant conservation, safety, and economic benefits.