High Country News Interviews WTI Road Ecologist

The Idaho Transportation Department is currently considering wildlife crossing structures for a segment of U.S. 20 near Island Park.  High Country News recently published an extensive feature article exploring both support and opposition to this proposal: “When wildlife safety turns into fierce political debate.”  WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser was interviewed for the article, discussing the potential role and effectiveness of animal detection systems.  The article also cites his research on the costs to society of vehicle crashes with deer and other large mammals.

Winter Maintenance Research in the News

As winter gets underway, state Departments of Transportation are planning their snow and ice maintenance programs.  In the process, they are considering findings and recommendations from WTI research projects.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is incorporating alternative products into its deicer mix.  The Hutchinson News published a recent article entitled “KDOT using beet juice to clear ice on roadways.” The article states that engineers reviewed WTI’s study “Understanding the Effectiveness of Non-Chloride Liquid Agricultural By-Products and Solid Complex Chloride/Mineral Products” to identify agro-based products for winter maintenance.

The Lake Superior News reports that Cook County, Minnesota is also reviewing its current use of salt-sand mix to treat icy roads. In “Navigating the Slippery Slope of Winter Maintenance,” a Cook County Highway Engineer notes that the agency consulted WTI’s 2017 report, Field Usage of Alternative Deicers for Snow and Ice Control, to learn more about potential alternatives to road salt.

Both of the reviewed studies were written and co-written by WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems Program Manager, Laura Fay.

12th TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads comes to Kalispell, Montana

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 a field tour at the 2019 Low Volume Roads conference.

Colin Brooks and Rick Dobson of Michigan Technological University demonstrate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during the LVR field tour.

Washington Post Interviews WTI Road Ecologist

Head shot of Rob AmentOne 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.

Rural Transit Project Kicks Off in Arkansas

Rebecca Gleason and Danae Giannetti (far left) introduce new research project to Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization in Fort Smith, Arkansas.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.”

WTI Research Expenditures Highlighted by Montana State University

Graphic: Montana State University with Western Transportation Institute unit identifierAt 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.”

WTI’s contribution to MSU research was also mentioned in “Montana State sets new research record of $138 million,” a related article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Ament Interviewed on Wildlife Crossing Structures in Wyoming

Head shot of Rob AmentThe 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.

Huijser Leads Webinar for USFWS

Marcel Huijser

In September, Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser was invited to present a training webinar for all the Regional Transportation Coordinators in the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS).  The topic for this training was “Road Ecology: Issues and Solutions on and for USFWS Refuges.”  WTI has provided technical assistance to US Fish and Wildlife Service refuges on transportation-related issues for several years, through projects such as the Technical Support for National Wildlife Refuges project and the Workshop and Technical Support for USFWS project.

In other news related to Marcel’s research, his 2018 journal article in Biological Conservation on wildlife fencing continues to receive international attention. Last month, his co-author Andrew Jakes was interviewed about the research for a feature article in Der Spiegel, a leading news magazine in Germany.

Transportation Research Board Promotes New CHSC Publications

Cover image of Proactive Traffic Safety report with title and photo of children walking on a sidewalkTwo new traffic safety culture publications, drafted by Center for Health and Safety Culture (CHSC) researchers for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), have been featured in the last two national newsletters of the National Academies of Sciences Transportation Research Board (TRB).

Kari Finley, Jay Otto, Nic Ward and Jamie Arpin authored “Proactive Traffic Safety: Empowering Behaviors to Reach Our Shared Vision of Zero Deaths and Serious Injuries,” a primer that defines proactive traffic safety and offers strategies and examples of how agencies can integrate it into their own safety programs and initiatives. This resource includes specific tips and communication tools for working with stakeholders and conducting public education events.

 

Cover image of Traffic Safety Culture Primer report with title and image of a downtown streetFinley, Otto, and Ward also developed the “Traffic Safety Culture Primer,” which introduces the concept of traffic safety culture and how it influences road user behavior. It provides examples of how growing a positive traffic safety culture can be used to enhance safe behaviors around issues such as impaired driving and seat belt use within an organization or at the community level.

CHSC created both primers as part of the Traffic Safety Culture Pooled Fund program, for which MDT serves as the lead agency.  The primers and additional resources are available on the Proactive Traffic Safety webpage and the Traffic Safety Culture Primer webpage of the MDT website.

Wolverine Research Featured on MSU Website

Black and white image of a wolverine walking through snowy forestMontana State University News Service published a feature story last week on Tony Clevenger’s wolverine research and also highlighted the story on the MSU website homepage.

“MSU research shows impact of major transportation corridor on wolverine movement” summarizes the findings from a multi-year study by Clevenger and his colleagues in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.  Their research showed that interstate highways in the area limit the movements of female wolverines, causing isolation that can negatively impact the rare species’ population stability and growth.

The results from this research, which used noninvasive genetic sampling methods to collect wolverine DNA samples, were published in the journal Biological Conservation this summer.

The final report for the Mapping the Wolverine Way project is available on the WTI website.