New Facility Ready for Fish Passage Studies

Two students test waterway used for fish research
Two Montana State University students test waterway used for fish passage research (photo courtesy of MSU News Service)

Researchers in Montana have a new tool for designing fish passage structures that meet the needs of both fish and agricultural producers.   A feature article by the MSU News Service highlights a recently completed artificial waterway at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fish Technology Center on the outskirts of Bozeman, which researchers can use to test the designs of small fish passage structures that allow grayling and other species to overcome irrigation structures that might otherwise hinder their seasonal movements.

The state-of-the-art upgrade will facilitate ongoing research by Montana State University’s Fish Passage and Ecohydraulics group, who have collaborated for more than a decade.  The group includes researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MSU’s Departments of Ecology and Civil Engineering, and WTI.  WTI Road Ecologist Matt Blank has been on the team since its inception, and he is currently one of the team members on a new project to redesign fishways to use less water.  As he stated in the news article, “”If we can get the fish to swim through less water, that’s a win. We want to find solutions that benefit not only the fish but the irrigators who use the river, and this study is exploring how to do that.” More information about current and past research is available on the MSU Fish Passage and Ecohydraulics group webpage, and on WTI’s project webpages (Fish Passage Research and Fish Passage Research Phase 2).

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.

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.”

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.

New Publication: Safe Interactions Between Vehicles and Bicyclists

Truck passing a bicyclist on a rural highway

The Journal of Safety Research has published an article that examines the influence of traffic safety culture on a driver’s behavior when interacting with bicyclists on the roadway.

“Traffic safety culture and prosocial driver behavior for safer vehicle-bicyclist interactions” is based on a research collaboration between the Center for Health and Safety Culture (CHSC) and the Small Urban, Rural, and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM) at WTI.  Authors include CHSC researchers Nic Ward, Kari Finley and Jay Otto of CHSC, and David Kack, Rebecca Gleason, and Taylor Lonsdale of SURTCOM.

Bicyclist safety is a growing concern as more adults use this form of transportation for recreation, exercise, and mobility. Most bicyclist fatalities result from a crash with a vehicle, and the behaviors of the driver are often responsible for the crash.  The researchers conducted a survey study of Montana and North Dakota residents and found that prosocial driver behavior was most common and appeared to be intentional. They also found that this intention was increased by positive attitudes, normative perceptions, and perceived control. The findings can be used to develop strategies to increase prosocial intentions and driver behavior, thereby increasing bicyclist safety.

CITATION: Ward, N. J., Finley, K., Otto, J., Kack, D., Gleason, R., & Lonsdale, T. (2020). Traffic safety culture and prosocial driver behavior for safer vehicle-bicyclist interactions. Journal of Safety Research. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2020.07.003

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.

Technology Transfer News: New Mexico DOT Funds Culvert Assessments from WTI Study

Culvert under a road with water passing through it

WTI research is being put into practice! The New Mexico Department of Transportation has approved a $500,000 project to develop and implement a culvert assessment management project. The project builds on the recommendations of a research study led by WTI to identify best practices for identifying, inspecting, and maintaining culverts and similar drainage structures. WTI researchers, including P.I. Natalie Villwock-Witte, Karalyn Clouser, and Laura Fay, also identified strategies for integrating and enhancing NMDOT databases that house the agency’s inspection and inventory information. The long-term goal of these projects is to implement a systematic inspection process that helps identify critical maintenance needs in a timely manner and prevent potential hazards like the development of sinkholes.

The full research study is available on the webpage for the Culvert Asset Management Best Practices project.

Why did the bear cross the road? Because he had it all to himself

rural two-lane road with no vehicles in mountainous region

Discover Magazine Interviews WTI Researcher about Wildlife Behavior during Pandemic

Humans are staying home more and traveling less during the current COVID-19 restrictions.  What does that mean for wildlife?  Discovery Magazine recently talked to WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger for an online article called “National Parks Are Empty During the Pandemic — and Wildlife Are Loving It,” about what happens when there are fewer vehicles, people, and noise on public lands. Tony discusses how large species, like bears, notice and take advantage of the empty travel corridors: “As you get people off trails and reduce the amount of human activity and movement in some of these rural-urban areas, wildlife really seem to key into that.” He also discusses how parks may have opportunities to enhance their habitat conservation efforts based on what they learn about wildlife during these unique conditions.

Winter Maintenance in the News

Laura Fay -WTI Research ScientistWinter’s not over yet (especially here in Montana), so winter maintenance is still a hot topic in the national media.  In February, Next City published an in-depth feature entitled “Cities Are Cutting the Salt from their Winter Road Diets,” which focused on alternatives to salt and brine for roadway snow and ice control.  WTI’s Cold Climate Operations Program Manager Laura Fay is quoted in the article, discussing environmental and sustainability issues related to deicers, as well as the value of best management practices, such as equipment calibration. The National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board then shared the story via Twitter, highlighting Laura’s quote “If you’re applying the right material at the right time, you’ll save on product, money, and time.”