Message from the Director: Our Research and Work Continues

Portrait of David Kack from 2020

Greetings from WTI! To staff, research partners, and friends of WTI who read our newsletter, I hope you are all staying safe and healthy.

During this extraordinary time, we are all understandably focused on the immediate and critical needs of ourselves, our families, and our communities. To the extent possible, however, WTI continues to conduct research, follow up on current projects, and assess future research opportunities. As Jason Carter, Vice-President of Research for Montana State University, said last week: “This event brings into sharp focus the importance of our research mission to push the boundaries of human knowledge in all directions. The research we conduct today has the potential to save lives tomorrow, and make for a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world.”

We are fortunate that many of our researchers can safely conduct their work from home and other remote locations as needed. The WTI headquarters offices are quieter than usual, but administrative, financial, and communications staff are available to provide support to WTI staff and all of our research partners.

Clearly, national and local conditions are changing rapidly, thus we will continue adapting how, where, and when we work. To our research partners, please keep in touch if you have current needs, or want to discuss evolving or emerging issues that may change where we focus our collaborative efforts in the future.

Communication remains more important than ever. While my “open door” approach is still in place, the door itself may have to be virtual for a few more weeks. Feel free to contact me at dkack@montana.edu or at 406-994-7526.

David Kack, Interim Executive Director

Do You Know a Good Candidate for the Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program?

ogo: Transportation icons including, shuttle bus, hiker, cyclist, tour boat and car. Text: Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program

The application process for the 2020 Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) Class is now open!! The PLTF program provides fellowships to recent graduates (sometimes current graduate students) in a transportation-related engineering, planning, or resource management program. They receive a unique opportunity for learning, career development, and public service within a federal land unit or agency headquarters.  This year, the program is seeking applications for five positions: one at the Southeast National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Louisiana, one at the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Complex in Massachusetts, and three within the National Park Service.  Learn more at the PLTF Application webpage, then help us get the word out!

PROJECT NEWS: Just a short train ride from D.C.

Laura Fay and Karalyn Clouser in train traveling to MarylandAfter the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., Laura Fay (left), Karalyn Clouser (right), and Natalie Villwock-Witte traveled on to Maryland to meet with the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) about the Severe Weather Index (SWI) project. An SWI is a management tool that can assess the performance and related costs associated with winter maintenance operations. P.I. Laura Fay is leading the development of an SWI specifically for Maryland DOT, which assesses operations and costs by region, Maintenance Shop, and winter storm event.

New Year, New Staff!

headshot portrait of Andrea Hamre in 2020WTI is pleased to welcome Andrea Hamre, Ph.D. as a Research Associate in the Mobility and Public Transportation Program. With expertise in transportation demand management, sustainable transportation, and travel survey data analysis, she will conduct research for the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM) and for projects such as the Twin Falls Idaho Transit Study.

Prior to WTI, Andrea most recently served as a consultant and analyst for a nonprofit regional transportation management association in Vermont. She also has more than 14 years of experience in transportation policy and planning in the greater Washington, D.C. area, including extensive work on non-motorized travel issues.  For example, during that time she contributed to the 2014 edition of the Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report and produced the 2011 report Non-Motorized Travel in the City of Alexandria after coordinating the community’s first volunteer non-motorized counts using the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project methodology.

Andrea earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, and her B.A. from Middlebury College.  Originally from Minnesota, she and her husband are two of Bozeman’s newest residents.  They look forward to discovering the many biking and hiking trails of Montana, and as avid backyard astronomers, they take a special interest in exploring the new celestial vistas of “Big Sky Country”!

Transportation Fellows Benefit from Networking and Learning Opportunities at TRB Forums

Transportation Fellows Vince Ziols, Naomi Fireman, and Nathan Begay in field with mountain view near Kalispell, Montana.Recently, WTI co-hosted the Transportation Research Board (TRB) International Conference on Low Volume Roads, held in Kalispell, Montana earlier this fall.  Attendees who stayed a few extra days could opt to take part in another Transportation Research Board (TRB) event – the mid-year meeting of the TRB Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands (ADA40), which has synergistic interests in topics related to providing access and safe travel in rural, remote, or unique locations.

Happy scheduling coincidence?  On the contrary, the two planning committees coordinated the dates of their forums to encourage attendance and allow participants to add value to their trips.  After learning about state-of-the practice management tools for low volume roads at the international conference, members of the National Parks committee held their own business meeting where they addressed emerging issues, such as the impacts and implications of visitors using E-bikes on public lands. Attendees also visited Glacier National Park where they learned about the management challenges of increasing visitation from Park Superintendent Jeff Mow and about transportation impacts on wildlife from Senior Wildlife Biologist John Waller.

The Public Lands Transportation Fellows attended both events and maximized the professional development opportunities.  Current fellows Vince Ziols, Naomi Fireman, and Nathan Begay are each assigned to a federal land unit where they work for one to two years on special transportation projects.  The TRB forums allow them to expand their knowledge on other emerging transportation issues.  Moreover, the Fellows had opportunities (not often available to young professionals) to collaborate and network with national transportation experts and leaders.

“At the Low Volume Roads conference, we were exposed to a productive mix of on-the-ground research and innovative thinking,” recalled the Fellows. “We met all sorts of people working on everything from safety signage to turning rail cars into pedestrian bridges to researching how autonomous vehicles could be used on public lands. We were inspired by everyone’s passion and dedication to public service. At the different field trips and events, we played ‘networking bingo’ and were able to converse with transportation professionals in a variety of fields.”

In addition, the discussion about E-bikes at the ADA 40 Committee meeting led to the development of a lectern session on this topic for the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2020. Fellow Naomi Firemen is conducting research on this issue at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. She was added to the January agenda and will have the chance to make a presentation to a national audience.  All three Fellows will also be showcasing posters about their research at the TRB Annual Meeting, which they are looking forward to: “We are excited for this year’s TRB conference to reconnect with the ADA40 committee, expand our networks, and learn about even more current and innovative transportation research topics.”

On to the Next Adventure…

Group photo of WTI staff and guests at Steve Albert retirement party in July 2019

Marking the end of era, WTI’s two most senior leaders retired this month.  We bid a fond farewell to our Executive Director Steve Albert and our Assistant Director for Administration and Finance, Jeralyn Brodowy.

On July 17, Montana State University College of Engineering Dean Brett Gunnink hosted a retirement reception for Steve Albert, which was well attended by WTI staff, past and present.  Special guests included retired MSU Civil Engineering professors Joe Armijo, a WTI founder, and Ralph Zimmer.   Former WTI staff who surprised Steve for the occasion included Kate (Heidkamp) Laughery, Eli Cuelho, and Carol Diffendaffer.

Joe Armijo speaks at Steve Albert retirement party in July 2019Steve retires after leading WTI for 23 years, transforming a tiny organization with only two staff people and two engineers into a large, nationally and internationally recognized transportation institute, with a multi-million dollar research portfolio.  He will always be highly regarded not only for his leadership at WTI, but also for his contributions to the fields of rural transportation and advanced transportation technologies.

Kate Laughery at Steve Albert retirement party 2019WTI gathered for Jeralyn’s retirement party on July 3, honoring her 20 years of service to our organization.  After starting as Business Manager in 1999, she quickly advanced to the  position of Assistant Director. She has not only been instrumental in the long-term growth of WTI, she has also served as a mentor to other research centers around the country through her leadership in the Council of University Transportation Centers.

Both Steve and Jeralyn will be greatly missed at WTI, but we wish them all the best as they embark on the next chapters of their lives!

 

WTI staff and guests at Jeralyn Brodowy retirement party in July 2019

WTI staff and guests at Steve Albert retirement party in July 2019

New Transportation Fellow Arrives at National Wildlife Refuge

Group photos of attendees at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge attending 2019 Fellows orientationThe Public Lands Transportation Fellows program has welcomed its first fellow for 2019-2020! In early July, Naomi Firemen arrived at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex for training in her new position.  The Complex encompasses three individual wildlife refuges in the Virginia/Washington D.C. area.  Most of Naomi’s work will focus on improving transportation options at the Occoquan Bay NWR, a 600-acre refuge that is home to many migratory species and is currently expanding its facilities for visitors.  She will also explore opportunities to enhance transportation between Occoquan Bay and the other two refuges within the complex.

The Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program provides fellowships to outstanding masters and doctoral graduates in a transportation-related field. Fellows have the unique opportunity to work at a federal land unit to plan or implement a project addressing visitor transportation issues for approximately one year.

Photo Caption: (left to right) Carl Melberg, USFWS Region 5 transportation coordinator; Amanda Daisey, USFWS PRNWRC Project Leader; Nathan Beauchamp, USFWS Transportation Program Analyst; Naomi Fireman, PRNWRC PLTF; Jaime Sullivan, PLTF Manager; Laura Whorton, USFWS Branch Chief of Transportation and Data Management; and Phil Shapiro, STC.

Unique Fellowship Opportunities available in National Wildlife Refuges

Logo banner for the Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program managed by WTI

Do you know a graduate student or young professional who is looking for a unique opportunity to gain experience in resources management, public lands visitation, and transportation planning?

The Public Lands Transportation Fellows program is now accepting applications for its 2019 class. Fellows work with staff at a unit or region/field office to develop or implement a transportation project that will preserve valuable resources and enhance the visitor experience. For the upcoming year, the two Fellows will be stationed at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Woodbridge, Virginia.

The Fellows position spans from July 8, 2019 to June 5, 2020. Compensation includes $33,000 for 10 months, benefits, relocation expenses, housing (differs for each position), and potential for Federal Non-Competitive Eligibility Status.

Please note that job offers will be made contingent on funding appropriations and applicant qualifications. Applicants to the Fellows program must be U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens of the U.S.; be 30 years of age or under by the start date; and have at least a Bachelor’s degree; however, the preference is for recent or soon-to-be Master’s degree graduates.

This year’s application window is shorter than previous years’ and closes on Sunday, May 12th at 11:59 Pm Eastern. To find out more and to apply, visit: https://westerntransportationinstitute.org/professional-development/public-lands-transportation-fellows/transportation-fellows-application/

Please forward this to anyone who may be interested. If you have questions, please contact Jaime Sullivan at 774-571-3503 or jaime.sullivan2@montana.edu.

WTI has managed the Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program since 2012.  It was modeled after the very successful Transportation Scholars program that served the National Park Service (NPS). To learn more about the program, previous scholars and their projects, visit the Public Lands Transportation Fellows webpage.

WTI Director Looks Forward to 2019, Launching New Projects and Hosting National Event

With the start of the new year, WTI Director Steve Albert sees a busy calendar ahead for himself and the organization as a whole – and that’s a good thing. “Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of amazing advancements in the transportation field, but also a lot of uncertainty about the future – not to mention a lot more competition for research projects,” Albert said in a recent interview. “Recently, though, we’ve been awarded several nationally significant projects that I’m very excited about, so I’m looking forward to a busy and productive 2019 at WTI.”

For example, in fall 2018, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) selected WTI and Intrans (at Iowa State University) to lead the development of a Research Roadmap on Rural Transportation Issues, which is scheduled to be completed and released in 2019. “Our team is focused on identifying the research issues that can make the most difference in improving rural transportation across the country including infrastructure, safety, mobility, freight movement, and workforce shortages,” said Albert; “it’s an amazing opportunity to help shape and prioritize the future of transportation research at the national level.”

WTI is also gearing up to lead the team that is launching a major Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reduction and Habitat Connectivity project. WTI’s Road Ecology scientists will partner with other leading researchers from the U.S. and Canada on a three year $700,000+ pooled fund study administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation that includes seven other states, from Alaska to Iowa, and one Canadian province. It will include a cost-benefit analysis of various mitigation measures, a series of research projects and the development of a manual. The project will identify and evaluate the most cost-effective strategies and tools that DOTs can use to reduce the number of collisions between animals and vehicles and those measures that require additional research. “Ten years ago, WTI’s Road Ecology team completed the first nation-wide study that looked at the cost of these collisions and the cost-effectiveness of potential solutions,” Albert explained; “new mitigation options have emerged since then, and state DOTs need concrete information on what works, what is promising but might need some more study, and what is economically feasible to implement.”
https://www.pooledfund.org/Details/Study/610

In addition to conducting new research, WTI will host the 12th Transportation Research Board (TRB) International Conference on Low Volume Roads this September in in Kalispell, Montana. According to Albert, “TRB sponsors this conference to highlight new technologies and new techniques in the design, construction, and maintenance of low-volume roads; researchers and practitioners come from all over to discuss practical solutions to common problems on these roads.”

Overall, the WTI Director sees opportunities ahead for all of WTI’s Centers and research programs. “We continue to find critical transportation needs in both our longstanding program areas as well as some emerging ones,” said Albert. “Our Mobility and Public Transportation program is doing innovative work right here in Bozeman, Montana as well as in small towns around the country related to public transportation options (see News section). The Center for Health and Safety Culture has also had tremendous success in growing its training efforts to introduce amazing, culture-based approaches to health and safety initiatives.”

Bozeman Commuter Project Launches Pilot Vanpool Program

Riders sought from Three Forks, Livingston and other nearby towns

The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) in partnership with the City of Bozeman and Montana State University is working to reduce the number of drive-alone trips and make more efficient use of current transportation systems. This project aims to connect more people to the places they want to go via bus, walking, biking and ridesharing/carpooling.

As part of that effort, the Bozeman Commuter Project is organizing a pilot vanpool program. Vanpools can save people money, reduce the wear and tear on personal vehicles, and reduce the stress of commuting. The pilot vanpools will be free to users. For each vanpool, project coordinators are looking for 4-9 people with similar destinations and schedules who are interested in trying their commute via vanpool. The specific route and schedule of the vanpool will be determined by the members. In case of necessities such as family illnesses, vanpool members will have access to a guaranteed ride home.  So far, there are 18 people interested from Three Forks, Manhattan, Churchill, Belgrade, and Livingston. A meeting will be scheduled in the next few weeks, to work on specific details, with the intent of starting the vanpools in January.

“Providing transportation options that are convenient, healthy and affordable — in addition to drive alone commuting — is important as Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley grow,” said Vanpool Coordinator Taylor Lonsdale. “By introducing area residents to the many benefits of vanpools, we hope this project will continue and grow, so more commuters can participate.”

For more information and to sign up for a vanpool contact Taylor Lonsdale at WTI. paul.lonsdale@montana.edu or (406) 994-7031.