WTI Road Ecologist Rob Ament is featured in a recent issue of Time Magazine for Kids. A feature article called “Safe Travels” describes the large number of animals that are killed in roadway collisions each year, and how wildlife crossing structures work to protect animals as they move across their habitats. Rob discusses successful designs – like the crossing structures in Banff National Park – and how they are models for new efforts around the world, including a project he is working on in Kaziranga National Park in India.
Time for Kids is a weekly magazine for elementary school children. It offers age appropriate learning material for students and is designed to complement curriculum.
On Wednesday, August 12, the Western Transportation Institute (WTI), Montana State University (MSU), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) co-hosted a national forum to raise awareness on “The Importance of Focusing on Transportation Safety in Rural America.”
NHTSA officials had
originally planned August field tours to western states and public lands to
view rural safety conditions and engage with state and local stakeholders on
initiatives to enhance rural transportation safety. WTI was slated to host one
of the public meetings on the MSU campus. Due to current travel restrictions,
the entire field visit was transformed into a virtual forum.
Jason Carter, MSU Vice President of
Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education, served as the webinar
host, providing the welcome address and introducing remarks by NHTSA Deputy
Administrator James Owens, USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao, U.S.
Senator Steve Daines (MT), and U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte
In a panel discussion moderated
by WTI Director David Kack, presenters provided an overview of critical
rural transportation issues that impact the safety and effectiveness of the
entire national transportation network, as well as current initiatives to
enhance travel through rural areas:
Nic Ward, Director of the Center for Health and Safety Culture at MSU, discussed the importance of addressing driver behavior to improve safety and gave an overview of how traffic safety culture approaches can be effectively used for issues such as seat belt usage, speeding, and impaired driving.
Loren Smith, USDOT Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, introduced the federal ROUTES Initiative, which addresses transportation infrastructure disparities between rural and urban areas. He included an overview of the new ROUTES Applicant Toolkit, which is designed to help rural agencies access federal grants and resources.
The Montana State
University (MSU) Student Chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers
(ITE) has worked hard in recent years to grow its membership and its
professional opportunities for engineering students, and the effort has paid
off! At the annual meeting of the
Western and Mountain ITE Districts, the MSU Chapter was selected for the
Momentum Award, which recognizes the student chapter that has most improved
over the last year. The MSU attendees
also took second place in the Collegiate Traffic Bowl, a team competition that
tests the knowledge of students on a variety of transportation planning and
ITE is a national association for transportation professionals, offering technical resources, training, and professional development. To attract and prepare the next generation of professionals, ITE encourages student involvement through university ITE chapters, leadership summits, competitions, and awards. The student chapter at MSU currently has about 35 active members. WTI research engineer Dr.Ahmed Al-Kaisyserves as the chapter’s faculty advisor. They have been very busy over the last academic year, with activities that included attending a student leadership conference in Los Angeles, CA, leading activities for K-12 students at the annual MSU Engineer-a-Thon, hosting professional speakers and networking events, and conducting hands on technical activities like traffic data collection.
President Bryce Grame and four other members attended the District
Meeting held in early July. Although
virtual this year, the attendees found it very rewarding. “With
some virtual sessions having upwards of 200 attendees, the access to industry
knowledge was expanded exponentially by moving the conference online,” said
Bryce. “As a student, I had the privilege of learning about new industry
findings and best practices through technical sessions, participating in
student leadership workshops to better serve our ITE@MSU student chapter,
receiving feedback from professionals on my resume, networking with my peers
through online social events, and competing in the annual Student Traffic Bowl
WTI research is being put into practice! The New Mexico Department of Transportation has approved a $500,000 project to develop and implement a culvert assessment management project. The project builds on the recommendations of a research study led by WTI to identify best practices for identifying, inspecting, and maintaining culverts and similar drainage structures. WTI researchers, including P.I. Natalie Villwock-Witte, Karalyn Clouser, and Laura Fay, also identified strategies for integrating and enhancing NMDOT databases that house the agency’s inspection and inventory information. The long-term goal of these projects is to implement a systematic inspection process that helps identify critical maintenance needs in a timely manner and prevent potential hazards like the development of sinkholes.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Washington Post is reporting on a wide range of impacts, including the effects on wildlife. In a recent feature, “Pandemic shutdowns saved thousands of animals from becoming roadkill, report suggests,” the Post highlights recent research that found large reductions in the number of large mammals involved in car crashes during March and April when stay-at-home orders were in place. WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser was interviewed for the article and discussed how the data may be useful in demonstrating the value of investing in fences and overpasses that help prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions on an ongoing basis.
Last week, Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering (NACOE) Dean, Brett Gunnink, named David Kack as Director of WTI. David has served as Interim Director since last July, in addition to his duties as SURTCOM Director and Mobility Program Manager. The College highlighted the appointment in an article on the NACOE homepage.
In more good news, NACOE also selected David for its 2020 Research Professional Employee Award for Excellence, in recognition of “extraordinary service during the most challenging of times.” Due to current event restrictions, the awards ceremony will be scheduled for a later day.
Congratulations, David, and thank you for all your hard work on behalf of WTI!
Conservation groups – including the National Wildlife Federation, Save L.A. Cougars, and ARC (Animal Road Crossings) – marked Wildlife Crossings Week (May 4 – 8) by hosting a series of webinars on current efforts around the world to enhance habitat connectivity. Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament led a session on “Improving Ecological Connectivity: the IUCN’s Transport Working Group,” highlighting his collaborative work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Rob’s full presentation is available to view on the event’s Facebook page.
Did you miss the Earth Optimism Summit hosted by the Smithsonian last month? It also showcased successful conservation actions during a multi-day event. WTI Research Scientist Marcel Huijser led a workshop entitled “Road Ecology – are we taking the right turns?” His presentation is now available to view at on the Summit website.
On Saturday, May 2, WTI and the City of Bozeman teamed up to assemble pop-up calming installations in a West Bozeman neighborhood on Yellowstone Avenue. Staff worked together to complete the project in one day, while practicing social distancing guidelines and wearing masks, of course. Team WTI included Danae Giannetti, Andrea Hamre, David Kack and Matt Madsen, while Team Bozeman included two WTI alumni — Dani Hess and Taylor Lonsdale. Can you spot our staff and partners behind their socially responsible masks?
The installation in West Bozeman is the most recent project in an ongoing collaboration by the City of Bozeman and WTI to test temporary, low cost strategies in areas where neighbors have expressed concerns about speeding vehicles. Several projects in 2019 used street art as a traffic calming strategy.
And… speaking of WTI alumni Dani Hess, did you know that the City of Bozeman recently selected her to serve as its news Neighborhoods Program Coordinator? Her appointment was highlighted in a local news story by KHQ Channel 6. Congrats, Dani – WTI looks forward to more opportunities to work with you on local projects!
Discover Magazine Interviews WTI Researcher about Wildlife Behavior during Pandemic
Humans are staying home more and traveling less during the current COVID-19 restrictions. What does that mean for wildlife? Discovery Magazine recently talked to WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger for an online article called “National Parks Are Empty During the Pandemic — and Wildlife Are Loving It,” about what happens when there are fewer vehicles, people, and noise on public lands. Tony discusses how large species, like bears, notice and take advantage of the empty travel corridors: “As you get people off trails and reduce the amount of human activity and movement in some of these rural-urban areas, wildlife really seem to key into that.” He also discusses how parks may have opportunities to enhance their habitat conservation efforts based on what they learn about wildlife during these unique conditions.