18th Annual Western States Forum a Success

The Western States Rural Transportation Technology Implementers Forum(the Western States Forum or WSF) continued the tradition of success at its 18th annual event in June. Designed to share rural transportation solutions that have been deployed in the field, the Forum featured seven technical presentations and demonstrations and provided a variety of networking and discussion opportunities for state departments of transportation (DOTs) and local and public agencies. Its small size (a maximum of 50 participants), invite-only guest list, and absence of vendors kept presentations in-depth and discussion lively and open. The 2023 Forum had a full house, with 49 participants representing eight states (AZ, CA, MT, NV, OR, TX, UT, WA), and six DOTs, including all five of the Western States Rural Transportation Consortium (WSRTC) member states (CA, OR, NV, UT, WA).

The Forum design is unique; speakers submit two drafts of their presentation for review by a steering committee, which then provides detailed feedback. This review process helps maintain the level of technical detail which distinguishes WSF from other conferences. A day and a half are devoted to presentations, so speakers are given an extended amount of time to delve into the “nuts and bolts” of their project’s outcome, whether it relates to equations, source code, component-level discussion, or lessons learned. Forum participants are also encouraged to engage with speakers and discuss the material presented both during and at the end of each presentation.

A dump truck pulling an enclosed trailer with metal towers erected at either end. People are gathered to view the inside of the trailer.
The Caltrans Office of Radio Communications satellite communications truck and trailer.

This year’s agenda included presentations from California, Utah, Nevada, and Washington, each with their own unique topics and perspective. Presenters from Caltrans District 2 provided a detailed review of broadband communication design strategies for Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) applications and explored how the system architecture has evolved and expanded successfully. Speakers from Caltrans District 3 discussed a web application and server that interfaces with existing transportation management systems to send batches of CMS messages based on a message playbook. The presentation also demonstrated how other organizations could create similar applications. The Caltrans Office of Radio Communications brought over their satellite communications truck and trailer from District 1 and accompanied their presentation with a parking lot demonstration.

The Utah DOT Weather Operations group spoke on a topic new to the Forum: wildfire response and a process for analyzing wildfire burn severity and debris flow probability with the use of portable Road Weather Information System – Environmental Sensing Stations (ESS). Their presentation explained how the process and system provides automatic alerts to stakeholders to minimize the time required to clear the debris flow area and keep personnel safe. Washington State DOT discussed their experience testing and procuring a wrong-way vehicle detection system that accurately detects vehicles entering a highway from the wrong direction. They also described how that system integrates with current infrastructure to alert the TMC if a vehicle is confirmed to be driving in the wrong direction. Nevada DOT had a contingent of speakers who presented on two topics. The first discussed their newly implemented managed lighting control system, which enables real-time adjustments to roadway lighting levels, along with monitoring for maintenance. The second presentation described NDOT’s use of the 3-GIS network management software for telecommunications infrastructure and asset management.

WTI has coordinated the Forum since its inception in 2006. It is supported by the Western States Rural Transportation Consortium, a transportation pooled fund consisting of five Western states – California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Washington (lead state). Over the years, the Forum has hosted more than 650 participants, with nearly 300 individuals from 14 different states. The 2023 forum was joined by 22 first-time participants and nine “regulars” who have attended 11 or more events.

The WSF has been established as an excellent means of disseminating information on Rural ITS among designers, engineers, and maintainers. It has also resulted in many examples of projects that were inspired by, or built upon, past WSF presentations. Sharing lessons learned (positive or otherwise) only advances the state of practice. Check out the Forum website for technical content and images from past events: Home | Western States Forum, http://www.westernstatesforum.org/. Information about the 2024 event will be posted this fall.

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.

Rural Road Safety Summit – Registration Now Open!

Logo for Rural Road to Zero Virtual Summit in September 2020

The National Center for Rural Road Safety is excited to announce that the Third National Summit on Rural Road Safety will take place September 29 – October 1, 2020. Registration is now open for this action-oriented event, which is designed to provide professionals with plans and strategies for meeting their region’s Rural Road to Zero goals. 

This year’s virtual Summit will feature knowledgeable speakers and interactive sessions, including:

  • Results oriented safety strategies for rural areas
  • Action plans for growing positive safety culture in rural communities
  • A safe system approach for rural areas

In addition, attendees can participate in training sessions for the new Road Safety Champion Program, or in a poster session with the theme “How to Make Rural Roads Safe for Everyone.”

The summits have become a national forum for engaging a wide variety of stakeholders and raising awareness on critical rural road safety issues.  In 2016, the first summit, Moving Rural America, invited stakeholders to articulate critical issues and identify collaborative safety initiatives.  The second summit, held in 2018, focused on Bridging the Gap, highlighting proven safety measures and other strategies that participants could implement in their regions.  Previous summits have attracted participants from across the country and presenters from FHWA, CDC, National Association of Counties (NACO), Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), and more.  Registration for the 3rd Summit is open until September 21, 2020. There are also numerous opportunities for sponsors and vendors to participate and support the event. 

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.

“Rural Matters” at Commute.com

On April 1, Education and Workforce Program Manager Susan Gallagher presented at CommuteCon2020, a virtual gathering of national experts exploring issues related to the “science of smart commuting,” such as telework, commuter behavior, and emerging travel modes.  Susan’s presentation, entitled “Rural Matters,” addressed how professional capacity building and workforce development initiatives are needed to support the development and implementation of transportation solutions and new technologies in rural areas.  Her presentation is available on the CommuteCon webpage.

WEBINAR – Local Road Safety Plans

Logo for National Center for Rural Road SafetyDid you attend the webinar by the National Center for Rural Road Safety (Rural Safety Center) in December about Local Road Safety Plans?  Don’t miss Part 2!

The Rural Safety Center and the NLTAPA Safety Working Group are co-hosting a FREE, 1.5-hour online webinar entitled LRSP Part 2: A Roadmap to Getting Home Safely. This webinar will be held Thursday, January 23, 2020 from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM Mountain/1:00 PM to 2:30 PM Eastern. This webinar will feature information on how to begin a Local Road Safety Plan and provide case studies from the county, state, and FHWA Division Office perspective. Webinar and registration information is available on the Center website. If you missed Part 1 of this webinar, you can find it on the Archived Trainings webpage.

Wildlife Vehicle Collision Data Collection System: Second phase of development complete

Project logo with graphic image of deer leaping across highway and title Federal ROaDSThe WTI Road Ecology program, in partnership with the MSU Gianforte School of Computing, has completed a second phase of research on a system to simplify how wildlife vehicle collision (WVC) data is collected and shared among federal agencies.

The research program is sponsored by the National Center for Rural Road Safety, the National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – the federal agencies want to develop and coordinate the use of a WVC Data Collection System with other federal land management agencies, state and local agencies, and other organizations. During Phase 1, Road Ecology researchers Rob Ament, Matthew Bell, and Kelley Hall, collaborating with MSU Computer Science professor Mike Wittie, developed a pilot WVC system called ROaDS – Roadkill Observation and Data System.  It collects WVC roadkill observations and is available to all Department of Interior (DOI) agencies and bureaus.

During Phase 2, the research team developed recommendations for preliminary national standards for WVC data collection systems, which will promote collection and sharing of consistent data among agencies and partners. The team also made recommendations to modify the ROaDS survey (used for data collection) so it is shorter, easier to use, and more efficient. As part of the development process, team members determined that ROaDS can provide a valuable research function – it captures the observer’s route, how long it took to complete the route and each individual observation made while on that route. Phase 2 also included outreach activities, in which team members began to engage other agencies and organizations to jointly develop national standards for WVC data collection systems via meetings, presentations, and workshops at national conferences that will be continued in Phase 3.

The Federal Lands Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Data Coordination Project Phase 2 report is available on the WTI website.  A new poster, which displays highlights from Phases 1 and 2 and proposed activities for Phase 3, is also available at the WVC Data Coordination Project Phase 2 webpage.

Developing Scenic Bikeways in Rural Areas: New Resource Available

Cyclist travels along a curve on a mountainous highwayCould a scenic bikeway attract more bicycle tourists to the parks, historic sites and other attractions in your area? Is your agency responsible for operating and maintaining a rural road where a bikeway is proposed? A new resource is now available that can help agencies that oversee rural roads develop safe routes that enhance bicycle travel networks.

Designating Scenic Bikeways: A Framework for Rural Road Owners is a U.S. Federal Highway Administration toolkit developed by WTI, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Association of Oregon Counties. This toolkit is intended not only to help Oregon agencies navigate the scenic bikeways designation process, but to assist other land management agencies, road owners, and bicycle proponent groups to work together to develop bikeways.

Resources in this guide will help project partners to:

  • Identify and discuss key factors for making decisions about bikeway designations,
  • Address common concerns such as safety, liability, funding and maintenance,
  • Communicate effectively with bicycle groups, road owners and the public, and
  • Follow a clear process for developing bikeway designation programs.

“As bicycle travel and tourism continue to grow in popularity across the country, more communities are working to attract bicycle tourists to spend money in their area,” said Principal Investigator Rebecca Gleason; “At the same time, agencies that oversee these rural roads are concerned about the safety of people biking on roads that may have active logging and that lack maintenance funds. We hope this new resource will help balance the opportunities presented by scenic bikeways with the concerns of the agencies responsible for operating and maintaining these rural roads.”

Designating Scenic Bikeways: A Framework for Rural Road Owners is available on the project page of the WTI website.

Newspaper Lauds Parenting Website

Logo for ParentingMontana.org shows outline of state with the website address and tagline "Tools for your child's success"ParentingMontana.org continues to receive great reviews. In a recent editorial, Karen Sullivan of the Montana Standard called the website “one of the best resources on parenting I’ve run across, and Montana parents are lucky to have it.”

ParentingMontana.org features practical tools for parents with kids ranging from age five to age nineteen, covering challenging topics such as anger, bullying, chores, homework, peer pressure, and underage drinking. The Center for Health and Safety Culture (CHSC) developed the project in cooperation with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

The website also offers access to a repository of videos, radio and print materials, as well as contact information for assistance resources in Montana, such as prevention specialists, treatment services, and a crisis text line.  In her editorial, Sullivan concludes that ParentingMontana.org “is an incredible free resource that might just make the parenting journey a little easier.”

MDT Launches Wildlife and Transportation Webpage

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has a new webpage dedicated to facilitating collaboration among the many partners working to reduce animal vehicle collisions and enhance wildlife connectivity.

In December 2018, the Montana Wildlife & Transportation Summit (Summit) was held at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. It was co-convened by the Montana Governor’s office, Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), Western Transportation Institute (WTI), and Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage (MSWP). The purpose of the Summit was to bring stakeholders together to strengthen working relationships and share information.  The long-term goal is to develop strategies to plan and implement wildlife accommodations, reduce animal-vehicle collisions, and protect wildlife and their movement across state highways. The emphasis of this first meeting was to build common ground among stakeholders around wildlife and transportation issues in order to build a foundation to engage additional stakeholders and partner on collaborative initiatives.

To encourage and promote future engagement, MDT has created the “Montana Wildlife and Transportation” webpage. It provides more information about the Summit, including presentations by WTI researchers Marcel Huijser and Rob Ament, and a link to the Montana Wildlife and Transportation Summit Final Report.  It will also provide updates on the ongoing activities of the Summit partners, such as committee meetings, guiding documents, and informational resources.