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.

Montana LTAP Director Elected to National Post

Head shot of LTAP Director Matt UlbergCongratulations, Matt Ulberg!  The Director of the Montana Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) was elected Vice President of the National Local Technical and Tribal Assistance Program Association (NLTAPA) at the Annual NLTAPA Meeting August 14th in Stowe, Vermont. As the National Association’s Vice-President, Matt also serves as the co-chair of the NLTAPA Partnership Work Group. In 2021, he will serve a term as President of the organization.

LTAPs and Tribal Technical Assistance Programs (TTAPs) provide training and resources to county and tribal transportation agencies on topics such as workzone safety, equipment and vehicle use, and incident management. NLTAPA serves as the national organization supporting 52 LTAP and TTAP partner programs around the United States and Puerto Rico, maintaining a broad focus not only on the needs of the LTAP/TTAP program, but also on the perspective of the NLTAPA partners including the Federal Highway Administration, (FHWA), National Association of County Engineers (NACE), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), American Public Works Association (APWA), and National Transportation Training Directors (NTTD). The Association’s main objectives are to build awareness about LTAP in the transportation community, assist FHWA with developing strategies for the Program, and build the capacity of each Center to best meet the needs of its customers.

“NLTAPA and our partners are doing important work to increase the knowledge and improve the skills of our current transportation workers, and also to plan for the critical skills that will be needed by the next generation,” said Ulberg. “I’m excited to contribute to national initiatives, as well as enhance resources that I can bring back to our programs in Montana.”

Montana LTAP is an integral part of the network of centers at the Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at MSU-Bozeman.

MSU News Highlights Fish Passage Research on Yellowstone River

Haley Tupen and Katey Plymesser with monitoring equipment next to Yellowstone River
Haley Tupen talks with assistant professor of civil engineering Katey Plymesser, right. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Graduate students at Montana State University had a great opportunity to participate in aquatics field research this summer, which was captured in feature article by the Montana State University (MSU) News Service.  “MSU engineers, ecologists seek to improve fish passage on Yellowstone River” profiles grad students Haley Tupin and Ian Anderson, who gathered data at the Huntley Irrigation project on the Yellowstone River.  The article includes numerous photos of the pair at work on the river and with the fish they studied.

The research project, conducted for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is investigating the effectiveness of a fish bypass channel that was constructed for the Huntley Irrigation Project.  The data collected this summer will help determine if fish are using the bypass to navigate around the dam.  WTI Research Scientist Matt Blank is a co-PI on the research project and serves on Haley Tupin’s graduate committee.