WTI Employees Recognized for Years of Service

Every October, Montana State University hosts the Milestones in Service Award banquet to recognize employees who reached five-year employment increments during the previous fiscal year. This year’s event included three WTI employees celebrating significant work milestones. Of special note are Susan Gallagher, WTI’s Education & Workforce Program Coordinator, and Marcel Huijser, Senior Research Ecologist, for whom 2023 marks 20 years as MSU employees. Thank you all for your years of hard work and expertise!

20 Years with WTI 20 Years with WTI 10 Years with WTI
Portrait of Marcel Huijser Portrait Karalyn Clouser

Susan Gallagher

Education & Workforce Program Coordinator

Marcel Huijser

Senior Research Ecologist

Karalyn Clouser

Research Associate


End of an Era as COATS Project Draws to a Close

After twenty-five years and eight phases, the California Oregon Advanced Transportation Systems (COATS) project drew to a close this year, marking an end to an era. Sharing roots with the founding of WTI, the COATS project has made a lasting impact on rural transportation in the western states and beyond.

The COATS initiative was established to investigate and address rural concerns using advanced transportation technologies in the northern California and southern Oregon region. COATS identified regional challenges and developed and evaluated appropriate solutions. Through the COATS partnership, the annual Western States Rural Transportation Technology Implementers Forum was established as a premier venue for technology transfer and ideas exchange on Rural Intelligent Transportation Systems. The project has provided an incubator for ideas that have evolved into stand-alone projects and products. COATS has served as the impetus for long-term partnerships and was the foundation for the Western States Rural Transportation Consortium (WSRTC) Pooled Fund, which is now in its second phase.

COATS research, either directly funded through the project or as a spinoff, brought substantial benefits to the region and other stakeholders. For example:

  • First-generation Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) planning and architecture documentation, which each state incorporated into its respective ITS efforts.
  • Successful implementations of ITS technologies, including CCTV cameras, dynamic message signs, and road weather information systems, to address regional transportation challenges.
  • Strengthened partnerships between the states, which have improved operations and maintenance of the transportation system, especially near the state border.
  • Innovative technology development activities, such as work providing new web-based traveler information mechanisms.
  • Evaluations of rural ITS deployments, for which the results have been presented in national venues.
  • Outreach to a variety of audiences, including the technology transfer activities of the Western States Forum.
Fifty people sit at conference tables and watch a speaker and powerpoint
Participants at the 2019 Western States Forum. Photo by Doug Galarus.

Notably, the initial COATS effort produced the first two Rural Transportation Management Centers (TMCs) in California. In addition, COATS project work developed the fundamental technical architecture for connecting the TMCs to rural field elements, resulting in the first all-Internet Protocol rural field element network in the California Department of Transportation. The second phase, called COATS Showcase, saw the evolution of the effort toward deployment, testing, and evaluation with multiple project implementations and the foundations for expanded efforts and spin-off projects. The Western States Forum was established in COATS Phase 3 and research on Rural Integrated Corridor Management laid the foundation for the One Stop Shop for Rural Traveler Information. Both the Western States Forum and the One Stop Shop are national award winners. In addition to growth of the Forum and establishment of the WSRTC, later phases of the COATS project included Evaluation of the Fredonyer Icy Curve Warning System, Regional ICM Planning, Survey of Western States Safety Warning Devices, Data Quality for Aggregation and Dissemination of DOT Traveler Information, Rural Deployment Assistance, Radar Speed Trailer deployment warrants, and Chain-up Delay Tracking with Bluetooth.

The COATS partnership has been productive and successful at addressing rural transportation issues with ITS, making a lasting impact in the western states region. We encourage you to review the COATS Project History page and the COATS Project Fact Sheet to read about all that has been accomplished through this project partnership. The work of the COATS Project continues under the scope of the Western States Rural Transportation Consortium.

Natalie Villwock-Witte Presents at 2023 AASHTO

Natalie standing next to her project poster
Natalie gives a poster presentation at the 2023 Safety Summit.

Natalie Villwock-Witte presented a poster at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) 2023 Safety Summit in Kansas City, October 17-19. The event brought together state DOT leaders, management, and practitioners, as well as transportation professionals in the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors to discuss opportunities for expanding the incorporation of safety across state department of transportation functional areas and the roles of AASHTO committees in supporting states’ safety efforts. The summit looked to instill a more comprehensive approach to safety by incorporating it more deeply into every phase of a transportation project, from planning and design through construction and maintenance. Natalie presented highlights from the Effectiveness of Highway Public Safety Information in Montana project she led funded by the Montana Department of Transportation and the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM).

Rob Ament Retires After 18 Years with WTI

Head shot of Rob AmentWe are both sad and honored to announce that Rob Ament has retired after 18 years with WTI. Rob is one of the early pioneers of our Road Ecology program and, as Program Manager, has grown it into the world-renowned focus area it is today. Having spent his childhood exploring the Mississippi River, Rob developed his love of ecology early. He devoted his early career to remote and wild places in the western U.S. – working for the Forest Service in Alaska, which he describes as “stinky thick with grown bears,” and as a Wilderness Ranger in the greater Yellowstone.

In the off season, Rob wintered in Bozeman, where he took graduate courses at Montana State University. He officially started a master’s in plant ecology, along with a new job in conservation, in 1993, investigating which plants communities reestablished after wildfires. The Yellowstone fires of 1988 were the perfect study subject, and park managers were relieved to learn that native plants, not invasive weeds, were returning to Yellowstone post fire. Rob’s work helped prove that fires are a natural part of the ecosystem – even early in his career, he was on the cutting edge.

Rob spent the next 12 years doing conservation work with American Wildlands, which he describes as “the first NGO to worry about corridors and connectivity.” It was during this period that he first collaborated with WTI, studying the impact of Interstate 90 on the animal corridor out of Yellowstone. That project led to the construction of animal underpasses at Bear Canyon, just east of Bozeman, Montana, and paved the way for Rob’s future position as WTI’s Road Ecology Program Manager.

In 2005, after six years as the Executive Director of American Wildlands, Rob decided to make a career move. He was offered jobs at WTI and the American Wildlife Society but was asked to start immediately. Abandoning his plans for a winter-long skiathon, Rob accepted both jobs – devoting half his time to conservation and half to research. He was determined to keep not just his love of research, but advocacy for implementation as well.

Rob became part of an iconic team when he joined the early founders of the WTI Road Ecology program Amanda Hardy, Tony Clevenger, and Marcel Huijser. “Bozeman was the center of the idea of road ecology,” remembers Rob, “Matt Blank started looking at aquatics, I started looking at roadsides. It was called Road Ecology within a couple of years.” Rob highlights a wide variety of projects on which he worked, from hill stabilization with waste wool blanketssequestering carbon in roadside soils, and building smartphone applications for wildlife-vehicle collision (WVC) data collection, to incorporating fiber reinforced polymers (FRP) into animal crossing structures, and managing roadside habitats for bees and butterflies. “I really had the most fascinating projects.”

“WTI was a great place for me,” says Rob. “If you were curious and could put together a research proposal, you could explore a multifaceted field.” WTI is also a collegial space. “There are no weird dynamics at WTI – people have loved my crazy ideas. I’ve always felt supported here.” He notes that’s true of his work with a plethora of MSU professors too. “I really am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

WTI’s focus on applied research has also suited Rob. The results of good research can be implemented right away, which he finds satisfying, and he’s proud of what he’s built at WTI. “The world is finally paying attention to road ecology, especially the wildlife component. It’s sexy.” He points out that as the last unfragmented landscapes start to see their first 4-lane superhighways, WTI publishes research on effective habitat connectivity solutions. “If you do the work, do it well. That’s what we’re all about.”

Rob will continue conservation work through the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC), where he has worked part-time since 2008, shaping policies that influence ecological connectivity and landscape integrity. Within days of retiring from WTI, Rob traveled to Thailand to investigate road network impacts on Asian elephants, a project sponsored by CLLC. A Borneo trip is also on the horizon. “It’s always some work and some play,” says Rob. “Looking at new highways and developing rainforests, but also seeing elephants and wild orangutans, eating good food, immersing in other cultures, and experiencing new ecologies.”

For play, he’s planned a 250-mile bike ride across Missouri with his siblings and is looking forward to an intensive Spanish immersion program.

At Rob’s retirement celebration last month, WTI Executive Director, Dr. Kelvin Wang, expressed deep gratitude to Rob for his phenomenal work and dedication. “Rob has worked hard to establish a robust Road Ecology program over the last decades that is recognized both in the U.S. and abroad,” said Dr. Wang. “His team will continue building on the relationships Rob developed and expanding on the program long term.”