Welcome to New Student Employee, Nathan Harriet!

A smiling young man wearing glasses and wavingPlease join us in welcoming WTI’s newest student employee, Nathan Harriet, a senior at Montana State University and a native of Billings, Montana. Inspired by his mother, a psychologist, Nathan is working on a degree in Marketing, using color and word selection to influence consumer choices. He’s also a driven student and on track to complete his degree in three years.

Nathan is particularly interested in improving his work efficiency and potential with the power of generative AI, which he studies in addition to his classes. He also hopes to develop the skills to find “location freedom,” and live wherever life takes him. While he would like to return to Montana eventually, first stop is Arizona, Texas, or the west coast. When asked what he’s looking for in his first job post-graduation, Nathan said an environment with experienced coworkers. He wants to learn as much as he can, from as many experienced people as he can, before starting his own independent business.

In his limited free time, Nathan practices fashion design, but wants to continue honing his skills before making any plans to sell his work. So, in the meantime, you can see his cool clothes when he’s commuting to school by bike or searching for Bozeman’s best Thai food.

In his new role at WTI, Nathan will be running the GoGallatin social media accounts and public outreach and assisting with other projects as needed. Make sure to like his social media posts and to say hello when you see him around.

WTI Director Plans Research Expansion

Portrait Kelvin C.P. WangAs I am entering the second month as WTI director, I have learned a lot about the organization, Montana, and the rural transportation improvements needed in the region. I am happy to report that WTI and partners submitted our proposal for the USDOT Region 8 University Transportation Center (UTC). In addition, Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and WTI have engaged in extensive dialogue about forging closer ties to solve transportation challenges in Montana. WTI is at a critical junction to grow and expand.

WTI has many strengths in transportation research with several programs of leading reputation, both nationally and internationally. This reputation was built on many decades of relentlessly pursuing excellence and I envision that these programs will continue to thrive and grow. I would like to expand the presence of transportation infrastructure research at WTI in collaboration with civil engineering and other MSU academic units. I also plan to renew our partnerships with existing labs and facilities in order to make the most of our joint efforts in the coming years, which will improve the operation, safety, and condition of the state’s pavements, bridges, and other assets.

The WTI operation figure below illustrates the general organization of WTI and its research focuses. In the weeks ahead, I look forward to further expanding these focus areas through discussions with WTI and MSU staff to further refine our approaches to anticipated growth and expansion. As I learn more about WTI and the state, more details about WTI’s future will be released in the coming months.

The organization of WTI and its labs at Montana State University

WTI Road Ecologists to Present at National and International Conferences

June is a busy month for WTI’s road ecologists; Mat Bell, Dr. Marcel Huijser, and Rob Ament will be giving poster presentations and serving expert panelists both nationally and abroad. If you are attending the 2023 International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET) or BISON’s International Seminar: Transport Infrastructure and Biodiversity at a nexus of challenges, please join them at the events below.

International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET)

Burlington, Vermont

June 4 – 8, 2023

Poster Reception

4:30 P.M. – 6:30 P.M., June 6

Research Engineer Matthew Bell will present the poster “Roadkill Observation and Data System (ROaDS) Deployment for Federal Lands,” which outlines the ROaDS development and deployment process. ROaDS will be accessible by Federal employees on a national level and across Federal Land Management Areas.

Senior Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser, Ph.D., will present the poster “Effective Jump-Outs for White-Tailed Deer and Mule Deer,” which outlines the testing of modified jump-outs for both species along US Hwy 93 North in Montana.


Technical Session 27: Diving in to the First Pooled Fund Study for Transportation Ecology

10:45 A.M. EST, June 8

Together, Mat and Marcel will participate in a panel discussion on the Transportation Pooled-Fund Project TPF-5(358), administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation, which was a first-of-its-kind road ecology study. It sought to identify cost-effective solutions that integrate highway safety and mobility with wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity and includes the work of twenty-seven authors, fourteen separate research projects, a Best Practices manual, and a final report synthesizing all findings.


International Seminar: Transportation Infrastructure and Biodiversity at a nexus of challenges

Research and Innovation as drivers for transformative changes

Council of Europe: Av. de l’Europe, 67000 Strasbourg, France

June 7 – 11, 2023

International Panorama: Overview of infrastructure and biodiversity nexus of challenges

10:15 A.M. – 11:00 A.M., June 7

Rob Ament will be joining this international panel of experts as Senior Conservationist for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. He is also co-chair of the IUCN Transport Working Group, which sits under the World Commission on Protected Areas’ Connectivity Conservation Specialist group.

RET Participants Showcase Project-based Lesson at ITEEA

Two men standing in front of a conference table.
Montana high school teachers Rob Bryson of Skyview High School in Billings (left) and Jake Warner of Capital High School in Helena (right) presented at ITEEA 2023 in Minneapolis.

Two alumni of WTI’s Research Experience for Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) program were invited to share their RET project-based classroom unit at the STEM Showcase held in conjunction with the 2023 International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) annual conference in April. Montana high school teachers Jake Warner of Capital High School in Helena and Rob Bryson of Skyview High School in Billings teamed up to investigate the making and use of concrete during their 2022 RET experience and developed classroom lessons and activities.

With guidance from Montana State University (MSU) researchers and faculty, Bryson and Warner designed their classroom unit around the theme of Sustainable Infrastructure Materials and Practices, using the making, mix-designs, and placement of concrete to teach students about proportionality, dimensional analysis, and geology.

The NSF-funded program, which comes to a close this year, was started in 2018 as a six-week summer interdisciplinary research opportunity for secondary school and community college STEM teachers and faculty. ITS-RET participants developed skills and curricula to address the unique challenges of rural transportation through new development and testing of technology, infrastructure materials, and models of rural transportation improvements.

Bryson and Warner’s RET experience didn’t end with the summer program. Attending the ITEEA conference in Minneapolis provided them with ongoing opportunities for professional development. “I met lots of amazing teachers at the conference who gave me ideas to bring back to my classroom,” noted Warner. “I was able to tour a 3D printing company and learn about new technology. I attended fantastic sessions about project-based learning, coding in the classroom, and methods for teaching gear ratios, and I was able to learn about organizations and grant opportunities to advance my career. ITEEA was a great experience.”

WTI’s CATS program joins international EPIC-Network

Susan Gallagher, CATS Coordinator

We are pleased to announce that WTI’s Community-engaged and Transformational Scholarship (CATS) program is now a member of the Education Partnership for Innovation in Communities Network (Epic-N), a group of programs that match community-identified needs and projects with the resources, expertise, and human capital of university students.

To become a member, programs must demonstrate that they align with the tenants of Epic-N: respecting existing administrative structures, individual responsibilities, and incentives; creating genuine partnerships with local governments or organizations; intentionally aiming to improve quality of life; focusing on community-identified, -driven, and -evaluated contributions; and catalyzing multi-disciplinary work and high numbers of courses, students, and student hours.

Since its foundation in 2018, CATS has provided hands-on learning experiences for more than 400 MSU students on over 40 projects for the City of Bozeman. The diversity of project needs has facilitated participation from an equal diversity of university disciplines, including geography and GIS, sociology, political science, sustainable foods & bioenergy systems, environmental, chemical, and industrial engineering, architecture, environmental science, film, and horticulture.

To begin a project, interested partners select a community challenge and work with Susan Gallagher, the CATS coordinator, to develop a project outline, budget, and schedule. They also identify an MSU faculty member excited to address the issue with their students. Most projects, such as Community Garden Expansion – Recommendations Based on Case Studies, are completed within a single semester, though projects may be expanded to increase their scope and depth. A notable example is the Investigating Neighborhood Character in the Northeast Neighborhood of Bozeman, MT which built on the work of multiple MSU courses and departments. The final product was a beautiful report documenting the “existing character of the neighborhood and social, economic, and architectural changes as perceived by residents,” and outlining the neighborhood characteristics that should be protected under increasing development pressure.

The success of the CATS program is due, in part, to its rewarding and continuing relationship with the City of Bozeman. Developing additional partnerships with organizations like neighborhood associations, departments of transportation, and counties, will not only support more hands-on learning opportunities for MSU students, but new and innovative solutions for Montana communities. To learn more about past CATS projects and developing partnerships, visit http://wrtwc.org/partnerships/cats/.

WTI Researchers Develop Deterioration Projections for Montana’s Bridges

The U.S. National Highway System (NHS) – the federally managed bridge and road network that moves American people and goods – has suffered from decades of insufficient maintenance and heavy use. Lack of funds, increasing traffic loads, and environmental exposure have encouraged rapid bridge deterioration in an already aging system. In 2016, nearly 40% of the nation’s bridges were over 50 years old and 9.1% were rated “structurally deficient.” To properly prioritize maintenance, repairs, and reconstruction, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has implemented the National Highway Performance Plan (NHPP), which requires states to design and implement management strategies for their NHS assets.

A sample bridge deterioration curve.

To fulfill Montana’s NHPP requirements, two WTI employees, Senior Research Engineer Damon Fick and Researcher Matt Bell, have developed a bridge assessment program for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) using three decades of inspection and deterioration data. By performing a time-based statistical analysis on these data Bell and Fick were able to create graphical deterioration projections – or Deterioration Curves – for bridges across the state. These were then adjusted to better reflect the deterioration observed in MDT’s real-world observations. “These bridge deterioration curves guide maintenance planning and decision-making at both the project and network level,” noted Bell. “By reflecting what we see in the real world, MDT can use the curves to appropriately allocate money for future work and make sure maintenance is happening at the right time.

While the deterioration curves indicate the general deterioration rate of bridges across Montana, Bell and Fick will identify specific deterioration variables (deicers, precipitation, traffic volume, etc.) in their next MDT project. “Faster or slower deterioration rates in different Montana districts may be related to maintenance practices, as much as, or in combination with, environmental conditions,” said Bell. “For example, bridges that permit heavy truck loads may experience faster deterioration. If we understand the specific impact, MDT can improve truck permitting and preemptively identify maintenance activities and building specifications. Continually improving the accuracy of the deterioration curves will support the decision-making process for our colleagues at MDT.”

PROJECT News: Scan of Communities with Fewer than 10,000 People finds Biking/Walking to be “Wheelie” Popular

Walking and bicycling have become increasingly popular transportation modes as people consider the positive impacts of active living. While there are examples of large, urban areas driving the implementation of infrastructure to support these modes within their jurisdictions, communities with populations smaller than 10,000 people may have limited infrastructure and know-how. Since 84% of communities in the United States are home to 10,000 people or fewer, these geographically distributed communities can have big impacts on transportation trends.

To investigate multimodal transportation options in these small towns, WTI researchers Natalie Villwock-Witte and Karalyn Clouser conducted Case Studies of Communities of Less than 10,000 People with Bicycle & Pedestrian Infrastructure. Funded by five state departments of transportation and the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), the project examined 15 communities across five states (Florida,  Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont).

Researchers traveled to each community to conduct on-site research on existing infrastructure and interact with community members. They collected geo-located photographs and data on active transportation infrastructure and condensed this information into infrastructure maps, conducted interviews, and provided on-site survey distribution. “For rural areas, in-person contact is key,” noted Villwock-Witte. “Local buy-in had a dramatic impact on data collection.”

The resulting case studies for each community highlight examples of active transportation infrastructure and outline characteristics that lead to a successful bike/walk culture. Also, the final report synthesizing all the case studies can provide guidance for other small communities. “These case studies,” said Villwock-Witte, “show that [bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure] does exist and describe how small communities across the U.S. have put it in place. The selected case studies are not the exception to the rule.”  As existing infrastructure, such as state highways through small towns, is reimagined, communities will look to their peers for inspiration noted Villwock-Witte. “I see lots of opportunities to build on this work in the near future and for many years to come.”

The case studies and final report are available on the project page of the WTI website

WTI Employees Recognized for Years of Service

Every October, Montana State University hosts the Milestones in Service Award banquet to recognize employees who reached five-year employment increments during the previous fiscal year. This year’s event included seven WTI employees celebrating significant work milestones. Of special note are David Kack, WTI’s Executive Director and Director of the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), and Neil Hetherington, WTI’s Visual Communications Manager, for whom 2022 marks 20 years as MSU employees.  Thank you all for your years of hard work and expertise!

20 Years

Neil Hetherington, Visual Communications Manager (WTI)

David Kack, MS, Executive Director (WTI) & Director (SURTCOM)

15 Years

Laura Fay, MS, Senior Research Scientist (WTI) & Program Manager (Cold Climate Operations & Systems)

Rebecca Gleason, MS, PE, Research Engineer II (SURTCOM)

5 Years

Luca Allaria, IT Support Specialist (WTI)

Shawna Page, Field Training Professional (Local Technical Assistance Program; LTAP)

Matthew Ulberg, PE, Director (LTAP)