NEW PROJECT: Supporting Mobility Options in Meigs County, Ohio

WTI is launching a new project to provide technical assistance to a small county in southern Ohio. Led by Principal Investigator Andrea Hamre, the research team will work with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Meigs County, helping to coordinate mobility, economic resilience, and substance use disorder workshops. In addition, the project will support the initiation of a mobility management program.

This project is part of an ongoing collaboration with the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO).  Since 2017, WTI has conducted five technical assistance projects in rural regions around the country to enhance access to transportation. The Ohio study is one of four new NADO projects launching in 2021.

Project Page: Supporting Mobility Options in Meigs County, Ohio

NEW PROJECT: Could Public Transportation Systems in Rural Areas Deliver Packages?

WTI is launching a new project to investigate innovative “last mile” package delivery systems and how rural public transportation systems may have a role in the process.  Led by Principal Investigator Andrea Hamre, the project will include a synthesis of current last mile package delivery practices through public transportation systems in rural states; an analysis of state policies regarding the use of public transportation for package delivery; and an estimate of demand, capacity need, and revenue generation for rural transit systems in regard to last mile package delivery.  This feasibility study is sponsored by the Small Urban, Rural, and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM).

Title: Commercial Package Delivery through Public Transportation Systems in Rural States

Started: December 2020

End Date: November 2021

Project ID: 4W8852

RESEARCH NEWS: Winter is coming — What’s new in Cold Climate research?

snow plow drives on snowy 2 lane highway through forest

Montana is not the only place concerned with keeping the roads clear and safe during the winter months. Over the last year, WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems program has added a number of new projects with multi-state partnerships to improve the tools, resources, and staffing available to winter maintenance agencies.

  • Roadway Friction Modeling: Improving the Use of Friction Measurements in State DOTs. States often use road friction measurement devices as guidance for snow removal activities, but there are challenges with interpreting the readings from multiple sensors. The goal of this project is to conduct friction testing that will improve the understanding of the relationship between weather conditions and road friction, which in turn will help to standardize data obtained and improve the ability of state DOTs to use these devices to predict friction on roadways.  This is a joint research effort with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, sponsored by the Aurora Pooled Fund Research Program.
  • Ongoing Issues with Winter Weather Severity Indices. Many state DOTs use winter-focused Weather Severity Indices (WSI) (aka Severe Weather Indices (SWI) or Storm Severity Indices (SSI)) to measure performance and manage winter maintenance operations. However, most WSIs lack the capability to capture more complex winter conditions, such as the impact of blowing and drifting snow. Through this project, WTI will create a working group of experts to advance the state of the practice of weather severity indices (WSI). This is a joint research effort with the National Center for Atmospheric Research and is sponsored by the Aurora Pooled Fund research program.
  • Recruitment and Retention of Highway Maintenance Workers. State departments of transportation (DOTs) and local public works departments (DPW) are grappling with recruiting, retaining, and training a highly proficient roadway maintenance workforce, including winter maintenance specialists. The goal of this project is to produce a concise, comprehensive guide of innovative but practical ways for DOTs/ DPWs to recruit and retain a highly proficient, productive, versatile, and committed roadway maintenance workforce.  The project is sponsored by the Clear Roads research program.

Cold Climate Program Manager Laura Fay is encouraged by the strong interest in winter maintenance collaborations: “WTI was one of the early advocates of winter maintenance peer exchanges, which really facilitated the sharing of best practices for operations. Now there are opportunities to work together on advancing new technologies and other tools that may also make it easier to monitor and manage roads in severe weather conditions.”

Student Research Opportunities: Five Positions Available with Bozeman Commute Rebrand Project

Summary: The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) is seeking five MSU students for part-time, paid positions to support the development and implementation of a project to rebrand a local, online commuter platform.  Seeking students in marketing, graphic design, engineering, public health and sustainability.  Apply by November 13th, 2020.

Background

Logo for Bozeman Commuter project including tagline Rethink Transportation

Many people who work in Bozeman live far away due to high housing costs, resulting in long and expensive commutes. BozemanCommute.org is an online platform hosted by RideAmigos launched in 2018 in part to help people find more affordable commute options. However, the Bozeman Commute platform receives relatively limited use.  The Bozeman Commute Rebrand, social marketing and programs/outreach project will engage MSU students and partners from different sectors in the community including transit, economic development, sustainability, business, and transportation.  The project objectives include:

  1. Rebrand the Bozeman Commute program to appeal to a broader audience
  2. Development of a comprehensive social marketing campaign
  3. Develop programs and outreach events to engage more people in understanding their transportation options.

Position Description

The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) is seeking five MSU students who will be responsible for supporting WTI in the development and implementation of the rebrand project. The plan is to create a multi-disciplinary student team consisting of one student from each of the following disciplines:  marketing, graphic design, engineering, public health and sustainability.  It is anticipated that this team approach will foster a culture of collaboration among people who likely have differing backgrounds and viewpoints. Roles may include the creation of marketing and outreach materials, website development, event coordination and implementation, data collection and analysis, survey design and analysis, literature reviews, preparing project reports, and making presentations to various community groups. 

The work is anticipated to start in mid-November and be complete by early June or when the project is complete.  Students will report to the Bozeman Commuter Project Manager- Matt Madsen.  Students will be paid $14 per hour up to 80 hours total per student over the next 6 months.  It is anticipated students will work approximately 10-15 hours per month on average, though that time may vary depending on class and other commitments.   Work will be remote, virtual, and possibly in-person.

Required Skills/Qualifications

  1. Junior or Senior Level Undergrad or master’s Level Student in Engineering, Marketing, Graphic Design, Art, Community Health, or Sustainability.
  2. Ability to work independently as well as in a collaborative environment
  3. Experience with Webex and other internet-based meeting software
  4. Ability and willingness to work during the Snowmester
  5. Demonstrated oral and written communication skills
  6. Demonstrated experience with programs like MailChimp, SurveyMonkey, and others

For More Information/To Apply

Contact Matthew Madsen, MPH, Research Associate at the Western Transportation Institute.  Matthew.madsen@montana.edu  Please submit a resume and cover letter to the email address listed above.  Please indicate your area of specialty in your cover letter.

NEW PROJECT: MSU Researcher Receives Seed Grant for Commuter Project

outdoor portrait of Matt Madsen

Congratulations Matt Madsen!  He received a seed grant from MSU’s Outreach and Engagement Council, which will support a collaboration between MSU students and community partners, including Gallatin County and the city of Bozeman, to develop a social marketing plan and rebranding for BozemanCommute.org. The website encourages people to replace drive-alone trips to work with trips by bike, foot, bus, carpool, or vanpool and telework in the greater Bozeman area. Organizers hope the project will encourage higher participation and a greater understanding of transportation options available to people living in and around the greater Gallatin Valley.

Logo for Bozeman Commuter project including tagline Rethink Transportation

Watch for updates, including an announcement of student research opportunities related to this project.  To learn more about the seed grants and the other recipients, read the full MSU news release.

New Project: Conserving Monarch Butterfly Habitats Along Idaho Highways

Monarch butterfly on orange flower
Source: MS Word Image Library

Researchers from the Montana State University Ecology Department and WTI’s Road Ecology program will investigate the roadside habitats of monarch butterflies in Idaho, as part of a new project for the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).

The monarch butterfly population has declined drastically in western states since the 1980s, largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. In Idaho, the Snake River Plain is a target location for conservation and restoration activities. ITD manages a large number of highway miles and adjacent right of way (ROW) acreage in this region, but there is little data on the amount of land or the specific locations that support butterfly populations, migration routes, and breeding habitat.

For this project, researchers will conduct a field study to identify the amount and location of existing monarch butterfly habitat within ITD ROW land, as well as additional locations that could be easily restored to suitable habitat.  Monarchs and their host plants, milkweeds, are a key focus of the project, and it will also evaluate several other native butterflies and bee species that are of high conservation concern. From the findings, the research team will develop recommendations for ITD on how to manage roadsides that connect natural areas and conserve butterfly and bee populations. The research will be led by Dr. Diane Debiniski (MSU Ecology), in partnership with Rob Ament (WTI) and Dr. Laura Burkle (MSU Ecology).

As the project progresses, updates will be available on the project webpage.

NEW PROJECT: WTI to Conduct Transit Study for Humboldt County, CA

WTI recently launched a new project to conduct a transit study in Humboldt County, a coastal county in northern California. The goal is to provide the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) and the Humboldt Transit Authority with a review of all current transportation services, and to investigate the potential for new service in the town of McKinleyville.

Led by Principal Investigator Andrea Hamre, the study will begin with the collection and analysis of data from the existing public transportation services in the county and a review of demographic and travel data to explore new transit service scenarios within McKinleyville as well as between McKinleyville and other communities in the region. Tasks will include the development and assessment of potential service and route options, preparation of cost estimates, identification of management impacts, and development of recommendations based on the findings. The project is jointly sponsored by HCAOG and the Small, Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM). As the study progresses, updates will be available on the project webpage.

New Project will Explore Technology Applications for Rural Areas

Line of vehicles backed up on one side to a rural road in Montana

WTI researchers Natalie Villwock-Witte, Karalyn Clouser, Jaime Sullivan, and David Kack have embarked on an FHWA task order project to explore the relationship between socio-economics, infrastructure, and travel behavior in rural communities. “Emerging Technologies and Opportunities for Improved Mobility and Safety for Rural Areas” will evaluate potential applications of new transportation modes and advanced technologies to address the unique transportation needs in small communities and rural areas.

The research team includes the Cadmus Group (project lead), WTI, and EBP-US (formerly the EDR Group). WTI’s role will encompass tasks to describe the rural landscape, define unmet transportation needs, identify potential strategies to address the unmet needs, and develop case studies.  “New transportation options such as shared mobility and connected vehicles are transforming transportation in urban and suburban settings,” said Natalie; “we’re excited to explore which ones can be successfully implemented in rural areas and how they can have economic and quality of life benefits for residents.”  Karalyn added that the project also addresses the varying definitions for “rural” throughout transportation research: “Another important benefit is the opportunity to develop a consistent, data-driven description of rural that can be applied to other projects in the future.” As the project progresses, future information will be posted available on the WTI website project page.

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.”

NEW PROJECTS: Connecting Rural Transportation with Economic Opportunity

The National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation will partner with the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM) to assist rural communities with passenger transportation projects that enhance economic development initiatives. This collaboration will encompass projects in two locations:

  • Natalie Villwock-Witte will lead a project to develop a rural transit hub in eastern Georgia.
  • Rebecca Gleason will lead a feasibility study for a “smart” transit hub in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

WTI and SURTCOM previously partnered with the NADO Research Foundation on rural technical assistance projects in Lebanon, Missouri; east Texas, and southwest Colorado.

Additional information is available on the webpage for each project:

Technical Assistance for Rural Transportation Systems: Connecting Rural Transportation with Economic Opportunity (Georgia)

Technical Assistance for Rural Transportation Systems: Connecting Rural Transportation with Economic Opportunity (Arkansas)