Montana LTAP has been hitting the roads hard this summer. Director Matt Ulberg and Field Trainer Shawna Page have conducted a variety of trainings in Lewistown, Miles City, Bozeman, Sidney, Billings, Boulder, Kalispell, and Cutbank to name a few. They’ve also hosted classes at four Montana colleges, on the Rocky Boy, North Cheyenne, Crow, and Blackfoot Reservations, and trained Yellowstone National Park road crews.
The annual Snow Rodeo is coming up fast in September. The two events, in Sidney and Missoula, MT, will accommodate up to 80 total competitors. After a one-day safety training, attendees will hone their skills in multiple areas: backhoe, loader, grader, and snowplow use; diagnostics; and the dreaded written exam.
Flagger training has been particularly popular this year. Not only counties, but fire departments, have requested the class. Fire departments want their employees to be comfortable managing traffic around vehicle crashes. According to Shawna, “once one department gets training, then all the neighboring departments realize they need it too.” Matt agreed and added that flagging is a foundational skillset for first responders that needs to be emphasized. The Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) is a leader in training for hazards in the incident management space. Their Transportation Incident Management (TIM) trainings are available online at https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/tim/training.
Matt and Shawna will also teach Flagger training at the annual Montana Tow Truck Association conference in September and help plan and implement the Montana Association of County Road Supervisors (MACRS) Annual conference, where they will present the annual Montana LTAP Road scholar awards. “We had a record number of both Road Master (63) and Road Scholars (52) this year,” noted Shawna. “Some of them were only one class away from completing the program, so we worked hard to get them over the finish line. We even taught a couple of one-on-one classes so that they could finish.”
Montana LTAP classes aren’t limited to Flagger training. Shawna and Matt have the ability to teach more than 80 different courses, including 24-hour New Miner: Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) Part 46, OSHA 30, Fall Protection, Trenching and Excavation Safety, and Confined Spaces and many more. They will also provide instruction on specific sections of those classes upon request. Page has been providing LTAP trainings for over seven years and travels all year across the state of Montana, driving an average of 50,000 miles per year to reach remote counties that need assistance. To date, LTAP has already reached a wide audience in 2023 – teaching 42 classes to 704 students. “I love my job and I try really hard to offer high-quality and entertaining classes,” said Page. “I hate death by PowerPoint, and I don’t want that for my students. I’ve gotten letters from folks months later, saying ‘I took your class, got a job, and I’m making my own money for the first time,’ which is pretty cool.”
MT LTAP is also collecting Build a Better Mousetrap ideas for the annual submission to FHWA. Matt accepts ideas year-round and will include them in the next annual submission. Ideally, a City or County roadway agency submits creative shop-built innovations or field procedures and include pictures and descriptions if possible. Also, LTAP solicits photos from the field to include in the presentations they offer. LTAP’s community of Local Agencies (our Locals) have consistently provided great roadway photos for inclusion in LTAP materials.
LTAP can help with any technical assistance needs including on-site project reviews, assistance with navigating federal funding applications, specific trainings, process evaluations, or working with individuals that need one-on-one time to get up to speed on their skills. “Whatever your needs are, LTAP is going to help you meet them,” says Shawna.
Resources from a first-of-its-kind road ecology study are now available on the web through the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University (MSU). The Wildlife Vehicle Collision (WVC) Reduction and Habitat Connectivity project, a Transportation Pooled Fund Study, was developed through an international partnership of fourteen state departments of transportation (DOTs), Canadian transportation agencies, and the US Federal Highway Administration. The study includes twenty-seven authors, fourteen separate research projects, a Best Practices manual, and a final report synthesizing all findings.
The reports of the fourteen research projects can be explored on the webpage within four foci depending on area of interest: economics, ecology, design, and practice. Notably, the study includes a cost-benefit analysis of the most effective measures that reduce animal-vehicle collisions (AVCs). This report contains an update and expansion of a cost-benefit model addressing wildlife-vehicle collisions and associated highway mitigation measures that was originally calculated in 2007 and published in WTI’s 2008 US Congressional report, Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction Study.
A portion of the study investigates two methods of managing animal crossing infrastructure costs. The first, led by WTI Researcher Matt Bell, is by incorporating fiber-reinforced polymers (FRPs), strong but lightweight materials that have a long service life, highly customizable shape, are inexpensive to maintain, and can be manufactured from recycled plastics and bio-based materials. The second is a cost-benefit analysis that investigates the true monetary losses of an AVC by extending consideration not only to huntable game animals, but to small mammals/reptiles/amphibians, free ranging livestock, and feral donkeys and horses. This novel approach recalculates the money saved by avoiding an AVC as a human and as an animal, revealing that on many roadways it is significantly cheaper to invest in animal crossing infrastructure than to pay for AVCs over the course of a structure’s life.
“Almost everyone agrees on the human safety and biological conservation benefits of AVC mitigation, but the updated cost-benefit model shows that the more we learn and the more the model expands, the more economically feasible mitigation measures become. There are lots of green lights for implementation,” noted WTI Senior Ecologist and the study’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Marcel Huijser. Additionally, while the incorporation of new mitigation technologies like FRP wildlife crossings or raised road concepts may be high, added Nova Simpson, a champion of the study and the Northern Nevada Biological Supervisor & Large Mammal Mitigation Specialist for Nevada DOT, “the long-term benefits will make these structures attainable and less costly, opening up habitat across the landscape.”
Led by Dr. Huijser and a diverse team of ecologists, engineers, and economists, the study is jointly managed by Nevada DOT and maintained by 12 federal, state, provincial, and non-profit partners from the United States and Canada. They have collectively invested more than one million dollars, making this project the largest wildlife-focused highway safety study in North America to date. As such, WTI will maintain a website for the TPF-5(538) study results and outreach. The public, as well as state and federal roadway managers, will have long-term access to all products related to this project, including future presentations and peer reviewed articles as they are published. With the recent passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and its provision to allocate $350 million over five years to fund a pilot wildlife crossing program in the U.S., content from this study could help inform state DOTs as they make decisions for their roads.
“Working with WTI has been an absolute pleasure,” commented Simpson. “WTI’s team includes some of the best road ecologists in the world, the sponsors of this project are so pleased with the results, and we are eager to share them with the transportation community and its stakeholders.”
To view the research findings and keep up with future resources, please visit http://tpf-5-358-wvc-study.org.