In the News: 60 Minutes Highlights Grizzly Bear Research in Montana

Large bear chewing on tree branches

On October 11, the CBS News Show 60 Minutes aired an in-depth feature story on grizzly bears in Montana and the impacts of the growing populations of both bears and humans in the state. In one segment, Bryce Andrews, Director of the non-profit organization People and Carnivores, discusses efforts by his organization to minimize human-bear conflicts, such as electrified fences around chicken coops and crops that attract bears.

Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser reports that WTI is a partner in testing these strategies. According to Marcel: “People and Carnivores put up an electrified barrier around a melon patch to reduce the number of melons eaten by bears. WTI’s role is to investigate the effectiveness of the electrified gates at the melon patch in keeping out bears, especially black bears. We monitor the four gates and select locations along the fence with wildlife cameras. The farmer estimates melon loss has been reduced about 80 percent this season as a result of the electrified barrier.” The full interview with Bryce Andrews is available to watch on the CBS News website.

On the Air: Podcast Digs into Snow and Ice Topics

Winter is coming – Did you know that the Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program (SICOP) offers a podcast “devoted to all things winter maintenance”?

Don’t miss Episode 41: “The latest word on alternate methods for deicing.” WTI Program Manager Laura Fay talks about the key findings from the recent Clear Roads project on alternate deicing methods.

Learn more about the podcast series on the SICOP podcast webpage.

MSU News Highlights Upcoming Webinar on Workforce Development

The West Region Transportation Workforce Center (WRTWC), which is based at WTI, will host a webinar on October 7 (11 am Mountain Time), which will focus on “Engaging Multidisciplinary Student Talent to Meet Agency Needs.” Four speakers from MSU and the City of Bozeman will highlight the Community-engaged and Transformational Scholarship Initiative (CATS), a successful 3-year partnership between MSU and the City of Bozeman that offers students the opportunity to work on community-based projects through their university courses.

Thanks to MSU News Service for highlighting the webinar with a feature article on its website!  Read more about the CATS program, the upcoming series of webinars on workforce development topics, and insights from WTI’s Education Program Manager Susan Gallagher, who will be one of the featured speakers.

Transportation Research Board Highlights WTI’s Severe Weather Index Project

Bicyclist and car travel through neighborhood in heavy snow conditions

WTI has completed a project to create a severe weather index for the Maryland Department of Transportation, and the final report was featured in a recent issue of the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board’s newsletter.

A severe weather index (SWI) is a management tool that  can be used to assess the performance and related costs associated with winter maintenance operations – it considers the relative severity of each weather event and the relative severity of weather for that season.  On behalf of the Maryland DOT State Highway Agency (MDOT SHA), WTI researchers Laura Fay, Natalie Villwock-Witte, and Karalyn Clouser, in partnership with David Veneziano of Iowa State University, developed and tested an SWI using Road Weather Information System (RWIS) data and input from maintenance managers. 

In addition to the development of the SWI itself, key outcomes of this effort include the identification of locations where blowing and drifting snow impacts the road network, the identification of future sites for RWIS stations, survey results describing RWIS use by MDOT SHA maintenance crews, and a detailed review of the RWIS network and data.  The final report also provides recommendations to MDOT SHA for improving the SWI and overall winter maintenance operations. “We’re pleased that MDOT SHA is evaluating the tool and plans to implement it in the 2020-21 winter season,” said P.I. Laura Fay; “The sooner it’s used and assessed during actual storm events, the sooner it can be calibrated and refined, which will improve its usefulness.”

Distinctly Montana Explores the Future of Transportation with Ahmed Al-Kaisy

Portrait of Ahmed Al-Kaisy

In its Fall 2020 issue, Distinctly Montana continued its series of articles on “Montana in 30 Years.” To explore the topic of transportation, the magazine interviewed MSU Engineering Professor and WTI Safety and Operations Researcher Ahmed Al-Kaisy. Dr. Al-Kaisy discusses a wide range of transportation issues, ranging from current challenges such as highway funding and clean energy development, to the prospects for implementing emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and even flying cars!  Read the full article on the magazine website.

MSU Homecoming — WTI Enters Two “Floats” in Virtual Parade

MSU toy mascot rides on a model of a Streamline bus
“Cats Love Streamline, Galavan & Skyline Transit”

Here at Montana State University, the university just finished celebrating Homecoming Week. Actually – due to current health precautions – it was “Stay HOME-coming” Week.  Nonetheless, the MSU Alumni Foundation showcased a full schedule of daily, virtual activities.  One of the highlights was the video of the Homecoming Shoebox Parade, featuring creative miniature floats.  Watch for the two transportation-themed floats created by our Andrea Hamre! (One float is at about 8:25 in the video, and the second one at about 17:45.)

Time for Kids Introduces Wildlife Crossings to Young Students

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.

MSU Research Expenditures Hit an All-time High

logo of Montana State University

Congratulations to Montana State University (MSU), for achieving a record high level of research expenditures for 2019-20. The total of $167 million represents an 8% increase over the previous year.

WTI is proud to be part of the high achieving MSU research team. Read about the accomplishments of our research colleagues across campus.

WTI Co-hosts National Event on Rural Transportation Safety

vehicle on two-lane rural highway near barn with mountains in background

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 (MT).

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:

The webinar attracted a large, national audience of more than 250 attendees.  To view the presentations in full, download the recorded webinar from the NHTSA website.

STUDENT NEWS: MSU ITE Student Chapter Honored at Annual Meeting

Group photo of members of MSU ITE Student Chapter
MSU ITE Student Chapter (Photo credit: Prof. Eric Shen, USC)

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 engineering topics.

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-Kaisy serves 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.

Chapter 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 Competition.”

WTI is pleased to work with the MSU ITE student chapter each year, collaborating on research project activities, providing speakers, and sponsoring activities.  For more information about the chapter, contact ITE.montanastateuniversity@gmail.com or visit https://montanastateite.weebly.com/