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)

 

USFWS Sponsors New Phase of Fish Passage Research

WTI, the MSU College of Engineering, and the Bozeman Fish Technology Center (BFTC) will continue their partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study fish passage and the barriers that limit fish movements.  Under a 5-year cooperative agreement, USFWS will sponsor a new phase of fish passage research projects, using the open channel flumes and swim chambers at BFTC as well as the hydraulics lab and computational/modeling facilities at MSU’s Department of Civil Engineering.  The purpose of the research program is to characterize fish swimming performance and behavior, to enhance the design and operation of fish passages, and to develop new methods that improve landscape connectivity for fish and other aquatic organisms.  The program also offers many hands-on research opportunities – in both labs and field sites – for undergraduate and graduate students.  Read more about this partnership program on the Fish Passage and Ecohydraulics Research Group webpage.

Ongoing information about this project will be posted to the Fish Passage Research (phase 2) project page.

NEW PROJECT: Assessing the Costs and Benefits of an Animal Detection System

WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser will lead a cost-benefit analysis of an animal detection system (ADS) for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).  MDT is considering a possible installation of an ADS along U.S. Highway 89, near Livingston, Montana.  The analysis will investigate factors such as the number of wildlife vehicle collisions (WVCs) on the road segment; the costs associated with large animal WVCs; costs to purchase, install and maintain a system; and the life span and effectiveness of a system.

Ongoing information about this project will be posted to the Animal Vehicle Collision Cost Analysis project page.

New Project: CHSC Explores Connection Between Impaired Driving and Traffic Safety Culture

Cannabis use by U.S. adults has increased by 50% over the last decade, and over the same period, cannabis use by drivers has increased by an estimated 8 -12%.  Cannabis impairs psychomotor functions that can impair driving ability, which in turn may increase crash risk.  As a result, drug-impaired driving is a growing traffic concern.  While traditional approaches have focused on enforcement and education, another approach is to build a positive traffic safety culture, which can be described as shared values and beliefs that influence safe driving decisions.

Through this project, the Center for Health and Safety Culture will conduct research to develop a better understanding of belief systems that predict intention to drive after using cannabis. The research will include surveys of cannabis users and non-cannabis users in the state of Washington.  The findings will guide the development of culture-based interventions and strategies to sustainably reduce impaired driving.

Project Title and Webpage: Traffic Safety Culture and Impaired Driving

New Project: Phase 2 Planned for New WVC Data Collection System

Project logo with graphic image of deer leaping across highway and title Federal ROaDSThe National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have partnered with the Western Transportation Institute – Montana State University (WTI) to develop a federal lands wildlife-vehicle collision (WVC) data collection system. This system is being designed to efficiently and effectively collect information on large animal – vehicle crashes, to address motorist safety concerns on federal land management agency (FLMA) roads, as well as carcass data of medium- and smaller-sized fauna relevant to FLMAs’ conservation missions. This project offers user-friendly tools to collect and manage data key for analyses identifying specific areas where measures may be used to reduce WVCs on roads in National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges.

Phase 1 of the project entailed developing “ROaDS” (Roadkill Observation and Data System) as a mobile device application (an “app” for smart phones and tablets) for collecting WVC data in the field.  In this Phase 2 project, the research team will continue development of the application, by developing data standards and refining the data collection fields that will be incorporated into the next version of the app.  The final system will help agencies identify and monitor locations where wildlife vehicle collisions occur, and facilitate the planning and implementation of transportation, conservation, and safety efforts on federal lands.

Project Title and Webpage: Federal Lands Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Data Coordination Project Phase 2

New Project: Safety Improvements for Low-Volume Roads in Montana

Highway agencies systemically screen the road network to identify those sites that are expected to yield the greatest safety benefits from an investment of available improvement funds.  Traditional methods for identifying candidate locations tend to focus on well-travelled roadways that experience higher crash frequencies, despite the fact that many low-volume roads may have high levels of risk due to their geometric and roadside features (e.g. curves, low visibility). Further, many of the crashes on remote local roads, particularly those with lower severities, may go unreported.

On behalf of the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), WTI will develop a methodology for identifying and prioritizing hazardous locations on local roads at the network level that are deserving of safety improvement funds. Another objective is to engage Montana counties to work closely with MDT on the development of both the methodology and future safety improvement projects.  This project will provide MDT with guidance for its safety improvement programs, enhance its outreach efforts to local agencies, and support its Vision Zero safety initiatives.

Project Title and Webpage: Developing a Methodology for Implementing Safety Improvements on Low-Volume Roads in Montana