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

LTAP Director Named to TRB Low Volume Roads Committee

Head shot of LTAP Director Matt Ulberg

Matt Ulberg, director of Montana’s Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), has been named to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Standing Committee on Low-Volume Roads — AFB30. TRB is one of seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conducts other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. Through their appointment, members agree to actively participate in and support the committee’s activities, including those that will require volunteer work. This TRB committee provides strategic planning for research and serves as a clearinghouse for information and resources pertaining to all aspects of low-volume roads including planning, design, construction, safety, maintenance operations, environmental, and social issues.

 WTI has a long history of participation on the TRB Low Volume Roads Committee, given the importance of low volume roads in rural transportation networks.  WTI Program Manager Laura Fay is also a member of this committee, and was one of the key organizers of the TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads, hosted in Montana in 2019.

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!

New Staff at LTAP

Headshot portrait of Melissa Schaak 2020Welcome to Melissa Schaak, who recently joined the Montana Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) as a Program Coordinator II.  Melissa will manage the LTAP main office, provide training coordination for statewide workshops and meetings, provide program management in conference planning, and develop communications and outreach for Montana LTAP.

Melissa grew up on a farm and ranch in Eastern Montana and graduated from Montana State University in 2007 with Bachelor of Science Degrees in Business Marketing and Agricultural Business.  She has worked at MSU for almost 10 years, previously in the Counseling & Psychological Services Office as the Medical Records Administrator, in Professional Development and Training as the Training Program Manager, and most recently in the Office of the President and Office of Legal Counsel. In her free time Melissa enjoys spending time with her husband at their home in Springhill, hiking, cooking, entertaining, and traveling around the U.S. and abroad.

Melissa can be reached at melissa.schaak@montana.edu Or, stop by the LTAP office on the second floor and say hello!

MSU Undergrads Assisting with Safety Center Research

Portrait of student Andy Merkel in 2020Welcome to Andy Merkel and Maddy Pernat, who are new undergraduate research assistants at WTI.  By supporting projects conducted by the National Center for Rural Road Safety, they will have the opportunity to develop not only new research skills, but other valuable professional development skills related to communications and outreach.  For example, Andy is helping with  social media planning, developing marketing materials for Rural Road Safety Awareness Week, and contributing to training modules for the Road Safety Champion Program, a new safety training program for public health, law enforcement, and transportation practitioners.  Maddy is helping with summaries of TRB workshops, providing support to the Fellows program, and will soon begin background research for the new project with the Montana Department of Transportation to stream traffic safety videos at motor vehicle licensing and registration offices.

Andy is originally from Hamilton, Montana, and is now a junior at Montana State University pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in transportation. When he isn’t working, he enjoys mountain biking, mentoring youth, kayaking, aerial photography, Montana State Chorale, and volunteering at his church.

Outdoor portrait of student Maddy Pernat with winter landscape 2020Maddy grew up outside of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, but chose Montana State University to pursue her education, in part to be closer to the mountains. She is a third-year Civil Engineering student with an emphasis on transportation engineering. Outside of school, Maddy can be found racing her mountain bike, backpacking, rock climbing, playing her guitar, or learning how to play her banjo.

TRB Committee Elects WTI Researcher as New Chair

Congratulations to WTI’s Natalie Villwock-Witte! She was selected as the new chair of a National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee — ADA 40, Transportation Needs of National Parks & Public Lands. She will serve a three-year term starting in April, succeeding outgoing chair and longtime friend of WTI, Steve Suder.

WTI has a long history with this committee and its research.  Retired WTI Executive Director Steve Albert was a founding member and held several leadership positions through the years.  A number of other WTI staff have served on the committee and been active in its activities, including two national conferences on the transportation needs of national parks and public lands.

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”!

High Country News Interviews WTI Road Ecologist

The Idaho Transportation Department is currently considering wildlife crossing structures for a segment of U.S. 20 near Island Park.  High Country News recently published an extensive feature article exploring both support and opposition to this proposal: “When wildlife safety turns into fierce political debate.”  WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser was interviewed for the article, discussing the potential role and effectiveness of animal detection systems.  The article also cites his research on the costs to society of vehicle crashes with deer and other large mammals.

NEW STAFF: Matt Madsen joins WTI’s Mobility Research Program

outdoor portrait of Matt MadsenMeet our newest Matt.   The Western Transportation Institute welcomes Technical Research Associate,  Matt Madsen, bringing our Matt total to four (he joins Matt Blank, Mat Bell, and Matt Ulberg).  Madsen joins the Mobility and Public Transportation program area and will take on projects previously coordinated by Dani Hess, including the pop-up neighborhood traffic calming program and bike/pedestrian technical assistance projects.

Originally from Wisconsin, Matt first came to Bozeman in 2000 to work and play before starting college back in Wisconsin.  He knew he would someday return to Montana.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in social work at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and his masters from the Colorado School of Public Health, Matt managed a healthy families program in Colorado.  His community engagement activities ranged from adult and early childhood education to leadership programs. His active transportation experience includes implementation of Safe Routes to School and local Bike to Work programs, both of which will serve him well in his new role with WTI’s Mobility program.  In 2018, Matt returned again to Montana and became Bozeman’s first affordable housing manager.  His job helped define what affordable housing means in this growing city and what role Bozeman officials should play in achieving that goal.

In addition to his work at WTI, Matt serves as a consultant providing community health education and leadership trainings throughout the region.  Matt is an avid backcountry skier, biker and trail runner.  When not at work, he is pursuing these hobbies that first lured him to Montana’s playgrounds.

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.”