After the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., Laura Fay (left), Karalyn Clouser (right), and Natalie Villwock-Witte traveled on to Maryland to meet with the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) about the Severe Weather Index (SWI) project. An SWI is a management tool that can assess the performance and related costs associated with winter maintenance operations. P.I. Laura Fay is leading the development of an SWI specifically for Maryland DOT, which assesses operations and costs by region, Maintenance Shop, and winter storm event.
Fourteen WTI researchers, affiliated faculty, fellows, and staff have returned from a busy and productive week at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. The premier transportation research event of the year, the meeting is attended by more than 13,000 transportation leaders, practitioners, and researchers from around the world. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, addressed attendees at the Chair’s luncheon, speaking on initiatives to deploy innovative technologies such as V2X, or “vehicle to everything” communication.
WTI staff played key roles across numerous topics and forums – presenting research at panels and in poster sessions, participating in committees, and leading workshops. One of the highlights was the well-attended workshop on “Rural Transportation for Everyone: Policy and Practice in 2020,” led by Jaime Sullivan.
As winter gets underway, state Departments of Transportation are planning their snow and ice maintenance programs. In the process, they are considering findings and recommendations from WTI research projects.
The Kansas Department of Transportation is incorporating alternative products into its deicer mix. The Hutchinson News published a recent article entitled “KDOT using beet juice to clear ice on roadways.” The article states that engineers reviewed WTI’s study “Understanding the Effectiveness of Non-Chloride Liquid Agricultural By-Products and Solid Complex Chloride/Mineral Products” to identify agro-based products for winter maintenance.
The Lake Superior News reports that Cook County, Minnesota is also reviewing its current use of salt-sand mix to treat icy roads. In “Navigating the Slippery Slope of Winter Maintenance,” a Cook County Highway Engineer notes that the agency consulted WTI’s 2017 report, Field Usage of Alternative Deicers for Snow and Ice Control, to learn more about potential alternatives to road salt.
Both of the reviewed studies were written and co-written by WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems Program Manager, Laura Fay.
Kalispell, Montana proved to be an ideal venue for the 12th TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads, held in late September. Sponsored by the Transportation Research Board and co-sponsored by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the conference welcomed 250 participants from 22 countries who experienced low volume roads in northwest Montana firsthand. The conference provided 27 sessions covering 104 presentations, six hands-on workshops, and a field tour highlighting demonstrations of a variety of low volume road management tools.
The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at Montana State University served as the local host and worked on site details for two years in preparation for this enormous event. WTI researchers Laura Fay, Natalie Villwock-Witte, Jaime Sullivan, Ahmed Al-Kaisy, and Matt Ulberg, Director of Montana Local Technical Assistance Program presented at the conference.
Conference organizer, David Jones, University of California, Davis, was excited that the conference took place in a rural setting where the knowledge shared is most needed. “Since 1975, this conference has been held every four years and provides a forum for the exchange of information and innovative ideas on all aspects of low volume roads,” said Jones. “This year’s conference continues that long tradition. Kalispell, with Glacier National Park nearby, is a beautiful area of the country and our local hosts excelled in providing a great venue with plenty of opportunities for activities.”
Colin Brooks and Rick Dobson of Michigan Technological University demonstrate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during the LVR field tour.
Plan now to attend the 12th TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads, being held September 15–18, 2019 in Kalispell, Montana. Register by May 15 to take advantage of the reduced Early Bird rate. WTI is the local host for this conference, so please help spread the word to colleagues in your network.
The conference will provide a global forum to examine new technologies and new techniques in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of low-volume roads. Panelists will explore case studies and practical solutions to common problems related to all aspects of low-volume roads.
For registration and hotel information, visit the conference website.
With the start of the new year, WTI Director Steve Albert sees a busy calendar ahead for himself and the organization as a whole – and that’s a good thing. “Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of amazing advancements in the transportation field, but also a lot of uncertainty about the future – not to mention a lot more competition for research projects,” Albert said in a recent interview. “Recently, though, we’ve been awarded several nationally significant projects that I’m very excited about, so I’m looking forward to a busy and productive 2019 at WTI.”
For example, in fall 2018, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) selected WTI and Intrans (at Iowa State University) to lead the development of a Research Roadmap on Rural Transportation Issues, which is scheduled to be completed and released in 2019. “Our team is focused on identifying the research issues that can make the most difference in improving rural transportation across the country including infrastructure, safety, mobility, freight movement, and workforce shortages,” said Albert; “it’s an amazing opportunity to help shape and prioritize the future of transportation research at the national level.”
WTI is also gearing up to lead the team that is launching a major Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reduction and Habitat Connectivity project. WTI’s Road Ecology scientists will partner with other leading researchers from the U.S. and Canada on a three year $700,000+ pooled fund study administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation that includes seven other states, from Alaska to Iowa, and one Canadian province. It will include a cost-benefit analysis of various mitigation measures, a series of research projects and the development of a manual. The project will identify and evaluate the most cost-effective strategies and tools that DOTs can use to reduce the number of collisions between animals and vehicles and those measures that require additional research. “Ten years ago, WTI’s Road Ecology team completed the first nation-wide study that looked at the cost of these collisions and the cost-effectiveness of potential solutions,” Albert explained; “new mitigation options have emerged since then, and state DOTs need concrete information on what works, what is promising but might need some more study, and what is economically feasible to implement.”
In addition to conducting new research, WTI will host the 12th Transportation Research Board (TRB) International Conference on Low Volume Roads this September in in Kalispell, Montana. According to Albert, “TRB sponsors this conference to highlight new technologies and new techniques in the design, construction, and maintenance of low-volume roads; researchers and practitioners come from all over to discuss practical solutions to common problems on these roads.”
Overall, the WTI Director sees opportunities ahead for all of WTI’s Centers and research programs. “We continue to find critical transportation needs in both our longstanding program areas as well as some emerging ones,” said Albert. “Our Mobility and Public Transportation program is doing innovative work right here in Bozeman, Montana as well as in small towns around the country related to public transportation options (see News section). The Center for Health and Safety Culture has also had tremendous success in growing its training efforts to introduce amazing, culture-based approaches to health and safety initiatives.”
For roads with very low traffic volumes, some transportation agencies have found that that these roadways can be maintained more economically and at a higher level of service with an unpaved or granular surface, as compared with attempting to maintain an old paved surface. Through this project, WTI will develop a comprehensive information resource on effective practices for converting severely distressed paved roads to acceptable unpaved surfaces. The guide will be developed based on needs identified in a previous WTI project, NCHRP Synthesis 485 Converting Paved Roads to Unpaved.
Laura Fay, who led the NCHRP Synthesis, will also serve as Principal Investigator for this effort. The main benefit of this project will be the availability of an easy to use guidance document for agencies that operate and maintain low volume roads. The guide will help agencies select candidate roads for conversion, conduct more effective and safer conversions, and communicate with the public on how and why a conversion is taking place.
Additional project information is available on the project page of the WTI website.
The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has found concrete-filled steel tube (CFST) piles connected at the top by a concrete pile cap to be a very cost-effective support system for short and medium span bridges. This type of system offers low initial cost, short construction time, low maintenance requirements, and a long service life. While the gravity load performance of these systems is well understood, their strength and ductility under extreme lateral loads (e.g., seismic events) is more difficult to reliably predict using conventional design procedures.
MDT has sponsored previous WTI research to investigate the performance of these systems under extreme lateral loads and to develop appropriate analysis/design procedures. The primary objective of this research, led by Michael Berry, is to further validate/improve MDT’s CFST to concrete pile cap connection design/analysis methodologies, and to ensure the efficacy of these methodologies for a wide variety of potential design configurations. This research has important potential benefits for evaluating and enhancing bridge performance during earthquakes and other seismic events.
Additional information is available on the project page of the WTI website.