Winter’s not over yet (especially here in Montana), so winter maintenance is still a hot topic in the national media. In February, Next City published an in-depth feature entitled “Cities Are Cutting the Salt from their Winter Road Diets,” which focused on alternatives to salt and brine for roadway snow and ice control. WTI’s Cold Climate Operations Program Manager Laura Fay is quoted in the article, discussing environmental and sustainability issues related to deicers, as well as the value of best management practices, such as equipment calibration. The National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board then shared the story via Twitter, highlighting Laura’s quote “If you’re applying the right material at the right time, you’ll save on product, money, and time.”
When Road Ecology issues are in the news, so are our researchers!
The Revelator interviewed WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger for the article “Road to Nowhere: Highways Pose Existential Threat to Wolverines.” The interview primarily focuses on Tony’s study on the impact of the Trans Canada Highway on wolverine movements and gene flow in the Canadian Rockies. The full report is available on the Mapping the Wolverine Way webpage.
The Jackson Hole News and Guide recently published “Slashing speed limits doesn’t slow roadkill, report says,” an article about a study in Wyoming to evaluate the impact of lowering night-time speed limits by 15 mph to try to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and wildlife. The study was led by P.I. Marcel Huijser and Corinna Riginos, who is interviewed in the article. The final report for the Effectiveness of Night-time Speed Limit Reduction project is available on the WTI website.
Finally, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News recently featured an opinion piece entitled “Corridors for migrating wildlife work to bring us all together” on the potential benefits of federal and state wildlife corridors legislation. The author cites the WTI Wildlife Vehicle Collision Study, which included the average costs resulting from wildlife vehicle collisions.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.