IN THE NEWS: Reducing Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions in Appalachia

Marcel Huijser

Public Policy magazine In These Times recently interviewed WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser for an in-depth article on wildlife crossings.  “Toward a World Without Roadkill” highlights efforts by residents and local organizations near Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reduce the rising number of bears, deer, and elk being hit by vehicles on Interstate 40.  Marcel discusses how mitigation efforts such as wildlife crossings can have significant conservation, safety, and economic benefits.

IN THE NEWS: High Country News Reports on Montana Passenger Rail

Outdoor portrait of David Kack in 2020

In a recent article, High Country News provides an update on the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, a Montana coalition that is working to revive a passenger rail line that would span 600 miles across the state.   “Montana Counties Band Together to Reinvigorate Passenger Rail” summarizes efforts to secure local, state and federal support, as well as funding, to restore Amtrak service that would connect residents to some of the larger cities in the state, including Missoula, Bozeman, and Billings.  WTI Director David Kack was interviewed for the article, discussing how rail service can provide valuable mobility options for people in rural towns who can no longer drive or who lack access to a vehicle.

MSU Selects Jay Otto for Employee Recognition

Head shot of Jay Otto

On April 14, Center for Health and Safety Culture Principal Scientist Jay Otto was selected for “Pure Gold,” a Montana State University employee recognition program.  Nominated by colleague Annmarie McMahill, Jay was recognized for his meaningful research projects and his “above and beyond” efforts to serve the university and community. Read the full story on the Pure Gold recipients webpage.  Congratulations, Jay!

ON THE AIR: Road Ecologist Highlights Wildlife Crossing Structures Advancements

Head shot of Rob Ament

On February 25, Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament was a guest on Top of Mind with Julie Rose, a BYU Radio program. For a feature segment on wildlife crossings, Rob discussed how crossing structures are designed, how they make roads safer for both animals and motorists, and where the newest structures are being built, both in the U.S. and globally.  The full Wildlife Crossings interview is available to stream on the BYU Radio website.

STUDENT NEWS: Welcome, Sam Coulter!

Portrait of Sam Coulter at ice hockey rink 2021

Meet WTI’s Undergraduate Research Assistant Sam Coulter. A Senior at MSU, Sam will be helping Andrea Hamre with the Commercial Package Delivery through Public Transportation Systems in Rural States project. His participation is through a GPHY 498 Internship for the GIS/Planning program within the Department of Earth Sciences, under the academic advisement of Land Resources & Environmental Sciences Instructor, Nicholas Fox. Sam was born and raised in Gillette, Wyoming. He will be graduating this Spring with a Bachelor of Science in GIS/Planning. Sam’s favorite classes have been GIS and Planning classes, where he has enjoyed creating projects from real life situations. In this project with WTI, Sam is excited to learn more about transportation, especially rural public transportation and ways to help increase its efficiency and effectiveness. When not pursuing his studies and internship from home, Sam is at the ice arena playing and coaching hockey. He also enjoys hunting and skiing.

TRB Annual Meeting Zooms Into Week Three

The NAS Transportation Research Board continued its revamped Annual Meeting last week, holding virtual technical committee meetings on a wide range of research topics. In this “snapshot” of what the forums look like this year, can you spot some familiar WTI faces at a Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands Committee event last week?

screenshot of 15 people attending a virtual committee meeting at the TRB Annual Meeting 2021

As a reminder, if you are attending the 2021 Annual Meeting, look for WTI researchers at the following events this week:

  • January 21 – Moving Research to Practice – Ahmed Al-Kaisy will present on research to create a new method for screening low-volume roads. (Workshop #1016)
  • January 22 – Rob Ament and Natalie Villwock-Witte will facilitate a workshop on National Standards for Wildlife Vehicle Data Collection (Workshop #1041)
  • January 22 – Ahmed Al-Kaisy will participate in a panel discussion on new safety developments on low-volume roads (Workshop #1044)

In Memoriam: Dr. Bill Jameson

Portrait of Bill Jameson with his two dogs

We are saddened to share that former WTI staff member Dr. Bill Jameson passed away on January 2.  Bill joined WTI in 2003 as a Senior Research Scientist, two years after his “retirement” from a distinguished engineering career that encompassed military, private sector, public sector, education, and research and development experience.  At WTI, he specialized in the development of telecommunications systems for transportation applications and was instrumental to the development of the Systems Engineering, Development and Integration Program.  He is fondly remembered as a wise educator, generous mentor, and good friend to all.

For more personal memories, we are pleased to share this tribute by another WTI alumni, Doug Galarus:

Former WTI staff member Dr. Bill Jameson died on January 2nd. Those of you who knew and worked with Bill will surely be sad to hear this. Those who did not know Bill should know a bit more about him.

I met Bill shortly after moving to Bozeman to work for WTI in 2003. Bill was chairing a session at a communications conference at MSU. Coincidently, I had been assigned to a project that involved significant data communication challenges. Several WTI staff members and I attended the conference and crossed paths with Bill. Subsequently Bill became a member of and helped what became the “Systems Group” at WTI with projects such as “Redding Responder” and “TMC-TMS Communications.”  Bill had previously worked with law enforcement on radio communications and other projects, and he brought a wealth of knowledge and a long list of contacts who could help us on these projects. Bill had also been faculty in the MSU Electrical Engineering Department.

I will never forget the time when Bill insisted that he and I travel to his family cabin in the mountains near Red Lodge to test a satellite communication system. Bill said that if there was any place where communication would be a challenge, it was there, and he was right. After carefully setting up the system and a camera to document our experiment, I turned around to find a cow moose looking me in the face! That was not exactly the challenge I expected.

Bill accompanied me on a later project trip to California where we toured facilities and roadways in Caltrans Districts 1 and 2 in Northern California to truly appreciate the communication challenges faced there. We toured the Redwoods and confirmed that communication was a huge challenge in the presence of “large conifers,” as Bill called them. We drove long, winding roads, including late at night as our flight to California had been delayed six hours in Seattle and we had a meeting scheduled the first thing the next morning. We went with District 2 staff to the top of Bass Mountain north of Redding to see the mountain top antennas that provided service to roadside cameras, signs, and weather sensors in the winding Sacramento Canyon. To call the path we followed a road would be an overstatement given the huge boulders we bounced over and around. We suspected that the vultures flying circles above us at the top of the mountain were there for a reason – they didn’t expect us to survive the trip! Despite the rough ride, Bill quickly became friends with Caltrans staff, and they always asked how he was doing. He never forgot that bouncy ride when talking to or about them.

When Bill’s involvement with projects at WTI ended, he continued to maintain a presence, and we were happy to provide him with an office. After various moves and consolidations in space we were no longer able to do that, and it was a sad day to see Bill leave with his belongs. He continued to stop by and say hi and bring donuts or other goodies to staff. While working at WTI and afterwards, Bill was a friend and mentor to staff and students.

Bill combined his wisdom with humor. Whenever someone would attribute something to “Murphy’s Law”, Bill would calmly reply, “I knew Murphy.” And he did!!! Another one of my favorite Bill sayings was eventually printed and given to me as something I should frame. Given the often-cluttered state of my desk, Bill would remark, “If a cluttered desk is sign of a cluttered mind, then what is an empty desk a sign of?” Bill’s desk mirrored mine, if not worse. Bill’s mind was full of great ideas and thoughts and was not cluttered. He had a big heart, and he will be missed.Bill loved his dogs, and his WTI staff photo showed Bill with two of his dogs. Baxter, his basset hound and Missy, his most recent rescue dog at that time looked right at home on the walls of WTI, along with Bill grinning from ear-to-ear. That same photo was used for his official obituary and is truly a good one to remember him by.

2021 30th Annual UTC Outstanding Student of the Year Awards

Headshot of Ali Rahim-Talegani

Congratulations to Ali Rahim-Taleqani of North Dakota State University (NDSU). Ali has been recognized as a 2020 Outstanding Student of the Year by the University Transportation Centers for his contributions to the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility led by the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University.  Ali has over 10 years of experience in international freight forwarding, logistics, and domestic transport.  He received his PhD in Transportation and Logistics from NDSU in May 2020.

During his doctoral studies, he worked on several projects relating to micro-mobility using simulation, optimization, and machine learning.  Now a master’s degree student in Computer Science, Ali is conducting research with the Small Urban and Rural Center on Mobility (SURCOM) at NDSU’s Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.  He is currently developing a web application that will help rural and small urban transit agencies identify and project their state of good repair.

In addition to receiving his PhD in 2020, Ali published his third journal article, “Maximum Closeness Centrality K-Clubs: A Study of Dock-Less Bike Sharing in the Journal of Advanced Transportation.

TRB Annual Meeting Kicks off Four Weeks of Virtual Events

Each January, the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board holds its Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., a week-long forum that brings together thousands of transportation researchers and leaders from around the world.  Due to COVID, this year’s committee meetings, workshops, and other events will all be hosted virtually, but will be spread over four weeks to facilitate broad participation.

WTI staff members continue their long tradition of leadership in TRB committees and other activities.  During the first week of the Annual Meeting, which kicked off on January 6, highlights included:

  • On January 7, Jaime Sullivan was introduced as the Chair of the newly formed Rural Transportation Issues Coordination Council at the Council’s kick-off event
  • Also on January 7, Natalie Villwock-Witte presided over the Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands Committee, for which she serves as Chair
  • Matt Ulberg participated in the Low Volume Roads Committee on January 7
  • Andrea Hamre serves as the Paper Review Coordinator of the Public Transportation Marketing and Fare Policy Committee, which met on January 8
screen shot of Andrea Hamre presenting at TRB virtual meeting
Andrea Hamre presenting at TRB committee meeting

Committee meetings will continue this week, followed by presentations, workshops and poster sessions during the last two weeks.  If you are attending the Annual Meeting, look for WTI researchers at the following events:

  • January 21 – Moving Research to Practice – Ahmed Al-Kaisy will present on research to create a new method for screening low-volume roads. (Workshop #1016)
  • January 22 – Rob Ament and Natalie Villwock-Witte will facilitate a workshop on National Standards for Wildlife Vehicle Data Collection (Workshop #1041)
  • January 22 – Ahmed Al-Kaisy will participate in a panel discussion on new safety developments on low-volume roads (Workshop #1044)
  • January 25 – Laura Fay will present her research on Deicing Alternatives at a lecturn session on Winter Maintenance (#1093)
  • January 26 – Advances in Travel Behavior Research – Andrea Hamre will present a poster on the Chittendon County, Vermont project (Poster Session #1203)
  • January 26 – Laura Fay will preside over a Lectern Session on Low Volume Road Improvements under the Great American Outdoors Act (#1241)
  • January 27 – Jaime Sullivan will facilitate a Lectern Session on Hot Topics in Rural Transportation (#1280)
  • January 28 – Hot Topics in Ecology – Mat Bell will present a poster on the FRP wildlife crossing project (Poster Session #1363)

More updates to follow throughout the month!

IN THE NEWS: WTI Road Ecologist Offers Insights Into Utah Project

Head shot of Rob Ament

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.