Natalie Villwock-Witte traveled to San Augustine, Texas in January to report on a rural transit pilot program to the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG). DETCOG and the Area Agency on Aging launched a pilot program in 2018 to provide monthly vouchers to seniors in five counties to pay for rides to medical appointments, shopping trips, and social events. WTI, in partnership with the National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation and the USDA, provided technical assistance for the program. Natalie reported that more than 50 area residents aged 60 and older signed up and used the program during the pilot period. “Thanks to the support of the Area Agency on Aging, the program will continue to provide rides to seniors,” said Natalie; “if DETCOG and other partners are able to secure additional funding sources, there may be opportunities to expand the program to serve other populations with transportation needs.”
DETCOG recently highlighted the project presentation on its website. Additional information about WTI’s other NADO technical assistance projects in rural communities is available on the WTI website. The pilot project final report is also available on the SURTCOM/WTI website.
WTI recently completed a public transportation feasibility study for the City of Lebanon, a community of approximately 15,000 people in southcentral Missouri. The City of Lebanon is interested in whether a public transportation system could help connect more residents to jobs, educational opportunities and local services.
Project Manager Natalie Villwock-Witte, working with Karalyn Clouser and David Kack, analyzed a wide range of issues related to launching and operating a public transportation system, including a needs assessment, service area analyses, asset acquisition, cost analyses, funding opportunities, marketing strategies, and sustainability. The team completed an extensive effort to identify, map, and analyze potential usage of different service routes for the City of Lebanon to consider.
“Through our surveys and site visits, we had the opportunity to work with the community and its partner organizations to understand exactly who needs mobility services and where they need to go,” said Villwock-Witte, “by the end of the project, we were able to provide them with some viable options and strategies that should help them move forward with planning a public transportation system.”
This project is sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, as part of a larger contract called Technical Assistance for Rural Transportation Systems: Connecting Rural Transportation with Economic Opportunity (funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture). This project, and two similar projects, were managed by the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), the USDOT University Transportation Center led by WTI. More information about the project, including the final report, is available here.
MSU News is highlighting a successful collaboration between WTI and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) to use blankets made of Montana wool to prevent erosion and promote plant growth along highways. For a recent feature article, Principal Investigator Rob Ament invited MSU news staff to visit the test site along Highway 287 near Three Forks, Montana. Despite harsh conditions at the site, researchers are observing what Rob calls “vigorous plant growth” where the blankets were placed for field trials. In addition to the erosion control benefits, the blankets could also have economic benefits by creating a new market for Montana wool. Check out the article and photos by MSU News, and learn more about the project on the WTI website.
At a recent meeting, the county commissioners of Teton County, Wyoming approved a wildlife crossings master plan, which will now become part of the region’s Integrated Transportation Plan. The Plan was developed by WTI’s Road Ecology program, with Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser serving as the Principal Investigator. Focused on key highway segments near Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park, the Plan identifies and prioritizes locations where the installation of wildlife crossing structures can enhance safety, prevent collisions, and preserve connectivity. During the course of the project, Road Ecology staff also traveled to Wyoming for public meetings to assist with local outreach efforts. Approval of the plan was covered by the Jackson Hole News; the full plan is available on the WTI project page.
Is your agency looking for innovative solutions to your most common transportation safety challenges? Are you interested in using technology, but not sure which one best fits the needs of your rural area? Or maybe you’ve considered Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) before, but are afraid they are too expensive or only applicable in an urban setting?
The National Center for Rural Road Safety’s (Safety Center) newly released Rural Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Toolkit can answer these questions and more! Updated and expanded from its 1997 version, the new toolkit contains 42 fact sheets focused on the most common critical needs in rural areas today including: Crash Countermeasures; Traffic Management; Operations & Maintenance; Emergency Services; Surface Transportation & Weather; Rural Transit & Mobility; and Tourism & Travel Information.
Each fact sheet provides detailed information including:
A description of the solution,
It’s applicability in a rural area,
Key components of the system,
Examples of implementation,
Considerations before implementing,
Cost information, and
Explore the new Rural Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Toolkit on the Safety Center’s website.
The most recent issue of the national Transportation Research Board Newsletter has featured an article on a WTI research report sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “Field Usage of Alternative Deicers for Snow and Ice Control” summarizes non-chloride based deicers available on the market, including acetate, formate, glycol, and succinate based deicing products. The report explores the deicers’ feasibility for use as alternatives to chloride based deicers, and identifies next steps to determine if a non-chloride based deicer is a viable option for implementation in winter maintenance operations by MnDOT and local snow and ice removal providers. TRB and MnDOT have posted a link to the report. You can also read about the project here.
Western Transportation Institute (WTI) research is prominently featured in Solutions, the research newsletter of the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). Three projects that WTI researchers completed on behalf of MDT are highlighted in the current issue:
The lead story is an in-depth discussion of “Exploring Traffic Safety Citizenship,” research led by Jay Otto, Kari Finley, and Nic Ward of the Center for Health and Safety Culture. Traffic safety citizenship is an approach to safety that aims to encourage everyone to behave in ways that support the safety of one another (such as reminding others to wear seat belts). The goal of this project was to understand which aspects of culture help to predict engagement in these behaviors.
“Identifying Disparities in Definitions of Heavy Trucks” summarized research by Yiyi Wang, Karalyn Clouserand graduate student Fahmid Hossain to clarify the myriad of state and federal regulations that affect truck drivers, trucking companies, and enforcement agencies. The team developed a useful handbook with charts and photographs to identify the types of vehicles and conditions that fall under specific regulatory guidelines.
Research Engineer Natalie Villwock-Witteand Research Associate Karalyn Clouser have completed a study for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which compares the travel preferences of Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomer generation. The purpose of this study was to understand how the generational cohorts prefer to access federal lands, particularly their interest in using active transportation modes (such as shuttles, walking, and bicycling) to travel to USFWS Refuges.
To collect the study data, online surveys were administered to residents of California, Colorado, and Texas, three states with large numbers of USFWS Refuges as well as large available sample sizes. One of the unique aspects of the study was that it sought input from the general population within these states, rather than visitors who were already at a Refuge or other federal land.
The findings may provide the USFWS with a better understanding of who visits their refuges now, and how that may change in the future. “Contrary to popular opinion, Millennials may be engaging with federal lands more often than previously understood,” said Principal Investigator Villwock-Witte; “also, Baby Boomers, who in the past have been the most frequent visitors to federal lands, may be less inclined to recreate on them as they age. Almost half of the survey respondents reported physical limitations, and others (i.e. younger generations) the need to accommodate the needs of small children with whom they now travel.”
When published by the USFWS, the final report will be posted to the project page.
In its March newsletter, the Mountain States Chapter of the International Erosion Control Association highlighted the release of Rob Ament’s recent task reports on using woolen products for erosion control. “Evaluation of Effectivenss and Cost-Benefits of Woolen Roadside Reclamation Products” is a research partnership among the Montana Department of Transportation, WTI, and KC Harvey Environmental, LLC. The release of the reports was also announced by the Transportation Research Board’s Daily New Service. The task reports are available on the MDT website here.
Natalie Villwock-Witte’s research on the transportation preferences of Millennials in rural areas continues to draw the interest of regional media outlets. Last week, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle picked up the story, including a feature article in its March 10 edition.