The Madisonian, a newspaper for Montana’s Madison Valley, reports on a completed WTI research study in a recent feature article. “Traffic calming data released” summarizes the findings of a traffic calming project in Ennis, Montana, for which WTI and the Montana Department of Transportation collaborated on a “pop-up” installation of curb extensions and other strategies to reduce speeds on the town’s Main Street, which is also a state highway. For the analysis, the WTI research team, led by Matt Madsen, collected data on speeds, pedestrian counts, and the number of drivers yielding to pedestrians before and after the installation. The final report is available on the WTI website project page.
An NCHRP project led by WTI is the focus of a current feature article in Traffic and Transit, a national transportation publication. “Mapping the Future of Rural Transportation Research” highlights the development of the Research Roadmap for Rural Transportation Issues (NCHRP 20-122), which will provide a detailed, long-term agenda for research aimed at improving rural transportation throughout the U.S., including the creation of a series of research needs statements on specific topics. The project is led by Principal Investigator Jaime Sullivan, in collaboration with Iowa State University.
To date, the project team has produced 15 topical research portfolios; 26 research needs statements; and 13 research problem statements, which are more fully developed project proposals ready to submit for funding consideration. Sullivan provided an update on the project at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, during the Rural Transportation Issues Coordination Council meeting, which she chairs. The new Council will serve as the home for ongoing activities related to the Research Roadmap project.
In 2018, the Utah Department of Transportation completed the state’s largest wildlife crossing, which traverses six lanes of traffic on Interstate 80. The crossing structure made the news again last week, when research footage captured deer, moose, elk, bears, bobcats and a variety of smaller mammals using the bridge. In news coverage by Smithsonian Magazine, “Animals are Using Utah’s Largest Wildlife Overpass Earlier Than Expected,” WTI Road Ecologist Rob Ament is quoted regarding the high percentage of collision reductions that typically occur after the installation of crossing structures. Rob’s quote is also included in a similar article by Nature World News.
The U.S. Forest Service has released a new report authored by wildlife crossing experts from WTI, ARC Solutions, and other partner research organizations, which compiles key guidance information that may lead to the installation of more wildlife crossing structures.
Wildlife crossing structures are one of the most effective means of reducing animal-vehicle collisions on highways, while facilitating essential animal movement across the landscape. Yet the widespread implementation of such structures, especially wildlife overpasses, has been hindered by cost concerns. In 2014, WTI hosted a workshop in partnership with ARC Solutions and prominent wildlife crossing experts from Canada and the United States to determine whether there are design parameters and construction techniques that could be added, changed, or adjusted to reduce costs, while maintaining or improving the effectiveness of wildlife overpasses.
Concepts identified during the workshop were developed into specific strategies. This document presents 32 potential cost savings considerations, which were consolidated into three categories:
- design and construction
- procurement, delivery method, and cost accounting considerations
Citation: McGuire, Terry M.; Clevenger, Anthony P.; Ament, Robert; Callahan, Renee; Jacobson, Sandra, eds. 2020. Innovative strategies to reduce the costs of effective wildlife overpasses. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-267. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station.
In 2015, WTI’s Small Urban and Rural Livability Center and West Region Transportation Workforce Center embarked on a collaborative project with partners from the Russian University of Transport (RUT), the Russian Federation’s largest university focused on transportation science and engineering. The project assessed and shared education and training resources to foster accessible transit services in small urban and rural areas.
Since that time, the international exchange of information between RUT and MSU has continued. On November 18, RUT hosted an international conference under the auspices of UNESCO and co-organized together with the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO and the Russian Academy of Sciences, titled “The Role of Transport Science and Education in Achieving Social, Environmental and Technological Sustainability of Societies.” RUT invited WTI to identify speakers for the conference on topics related to mobility, accessibility, sustainability and safety.
Andrea Hamre, Research Associate at the Western Transportation Institute, presented “Poverty, Race, and Transport Justice in Rural and Small Urban Communities.” Former WTI graduate research fellow and current Wildlife Biologist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Whisper Means, presented “Relationships Across a Highway: Roadkill, Politics and Landscape Connectivity on the Flathead Indian Reservation.” Judy Shanley, Assistant Vice President at Easterseals and Director of the National Center for Mobility Management, presented “Developing a Transportation Workforce that Values the Inclusion of Individuals with Disabilities in Service and Operations.”
As one source of funding for transportation projects, the federal government and all states place a tax on fuel purchases. However, at the local and regional level, authorization and use of fuel taxes vary widely. In Montana, for example, state law has authorized a local option gas tax since 1979, but it has not been utilized. That changed in June 2020 when voters in Missoula County approved a historic local option gas tax, marking the first time any county in the state has done so.
The success of the referendum in Missoula County may generate increased interest in this funding source by other counties. In addition, there are ongoing discussions at the state and national level about the viability of fuel taxes as a sustainable funding resource in response to recent reductions in fuel consumption and in the context of the upcoming reauthorization of federal transportation legislation. In light of all these factors, WTI recently completed a study to consider the revenues that could be raised for roads, highways, streets, and bridges throughout Montana by imposing the local option gas tax.
“An Evaluation of the Montana Local Option Motor Fuel Excise Tax” summarizes the recent history of federal and state fuel taxes, with a focus on the State of Montana and Missoula County. The subsequent analysis assesses fuel tax revenues and expenditures for roads, highways, streets, and bridges for seven Montana counties (Cascade, Fergus, Gallatin, Garfield, Hill, Madison, and Missoula). Several findings provide insights related to the contribution of fuel taxes to transportation expenditures; for example, neither state gas nor diesel taxes have kept up with inflation, and fuel tax revenues cover a relatively small share (7%-10% on average) of the roadway, highway, street, and bridge expenditures across the seven Montana counties in the study area. Moreover, the 2 cent/gallon local option tax is estimated to increase an average motorist’s costs by a relatively modest $8 – $27 per year. The full report, authored by Principal Investigator Andrea Hamre, is available on the project webpage of the WTI website.
The Redheaded Blackbelt, a local online news outlet in Northern California, has published a feature story about a WTI-led transit study that is getting started in Humboldt County. “New Study will Identify Ways to Improve Public Transit in McKinleyville” discusses the project which is currently in a public outreach phase. The overall objectives are to assess public transit service within McKinleyville, identify connections between McKinleyville and other communities in the County, and develop recommendations for improving public transit in the area. Principal Investigator Andrea Hamre is leading the effort, in partnership with the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) and the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP). Further information is available on the WTI project webpage.
The National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board (TRB) is raising awareness of a new WTI study on travel behavior, by highlighting it in its weekly newsletter.
Researchers Andrea Hamre and Jonathan Fisher recently completed “Travel Behavior and Transportation Planning Insights from the Small Urban Area of Chittenden County, Vermont: An Application of Traveler Segmentation,” sponsored by the Small Urban, Rural, and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM). The primary purpose of this project was to analyze transportation planning and travel behavior of County residents, using data from four travel surveys conducted over the last 20 years.
The survey series collected information from respondents about travel preferences and priorities for regional transportation investments. The research team applied traveler segmentation to classify the survey sample into three modal orientations — Alternative [transportation] Oriented, Car Tolerant, and Car Oriented.
According to the team’s analysis, nearly half (49%) of the respondents fell within the Car Tolerant segment. These respondents use their cars frequently, but also show a high willingness to change their travel behavior, as well as strong support for incentives to use alternative transportation. The team also found that Chittenden County adults would like fewer resources devoted to highways than are currently being allocated, and that support for gas tax increases is higher for non-highway purposes than for use exclusive to highways. These findings may help Chittenden County officials prioritize future transportation investments and develop multi-modal systems that meet a range of public needs.
The full report is available on the project webpage.
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).
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.