News

NEW REPORT: What is the Impact of a Local Gas Tax in Montana?

Map of Montana highlighting 7counties studied in fuel tax research: Missoula, Gallatin, Madison, Cascade, Hill, Fergus, and Garfield

As one source of funding for transportation projects, the federal government and all states place a tax on fuel purchases. However, at the local and regional level, authorization and use of fuel taxes vary widely.  In Montana, for example, state law has authorized a local option gas tax since 1979, but it has not been utilized.  That changed in June 2020 when voters in Missoula County approved a historic local option gas tax, marking the first time any county in the state has done so.

The success of the referendum in Missoula County may generate increased interest in this funding source by other counties.  In addition, there are ongoing discussions at the state and national level about the viability of fuel taxes as a sustainable funding resource in response to recent reductions in fuel consumption and in the context of the upcoming reauthorization of federal transportation legislation.  In light of all these factors, WTI recently completed a study to consider the revenues that could be raised for roads, highways, streets, and bridges throughout Montana by imposing the local option gas tax.

An Evaluation of the Montana Local Option Motor Fuel Excise Tax” summarizes the recent history of federal and state fuel taxes, with a focus on the State of Montana and Missoula County. The subsequent analysis assesses fuel tax revenues and expenditures for roads, highways, streets, and bridges for seven Montana counties (Cascade, Fergus, Gallatin, Garfield, Hill, Madison, and Missoula).  Several findings provide insights related to the contribution of fuel taxes to transportation expenditures; for example, neither state gas nor diesel taxes have kept up with inflation, and fuel tax revenues cover a relatively small share (7%-10% on average) of the roadway, highway, street, and bridge expenditures across the seven Montana counties in the study area. Moreover, the 2 cent/gallon local option tax is estimated to increase an average motorist’s costs by a relatively modest $8 – $27 per year. The full report, authored by Principal Investigator Andrea Hamre, is available on the project webpage of the WTI website.

Milestones in Service: Faculty and Staff Honored at Virtual Ceremony

On November 5, Montana State University hosted the 7th annual Milestones in Service celebration with a virtual awards ceremony to honor faculty and staff for their dedication and years of service to MSU. Awards are provided in 5-year increments based on cumulative years of service. This year’s ceremony recognized a number of faculty and staff who work closely with WTI or are part of our WTI “alumni” family.

Portrait of Ahmed Al-Kaisy

Dr. Ahmed Al-Kaisy received an award for 15 years of service as a Transportation Professor in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering (NACOE).  Over that same 15-year period, Ahmed has also served as a WTI Researcher and Program Manager for Safety and Operations Research.

outdoor portrait of Kari Finley

Dr. Kari Finley was recognized for 5 years of service as a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Health and Safety Culture.  She has led and collaborated on numerous projects related to traffic safety culture, substance misuse, and child development.

Two MSU employees who started their MSU careers at WTI were also honored. Jenni West, who managed the Transit in Parks Technical Assistance Center (TRIPTAC) for WTI for many years, received a 10-year award.  She now serves as the Associate Director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) in the MSU College of Engineering (NACOE).  Dr. Laura Stanley was also recognized with a 10-year service award. She formerly served as a WTI researcher in our human factors safety program and led many projects in the Driving Simulation Laboratory.  She now serves as an Associate Professor of Computer Science in the MSU Gianforte School of Computing.

Finally, we congratulate several long-time NACOE employees who have provided invaluable support to WTI.  Dr. Ernest Visser has served as the IT Manager for the NACOE Dean’s Office for 20 years, and during that time he helped create, maintain, and troubleshoot many of WTI’s key IT systems.  Dr. Joel Cahoon, Civil Engineering (25 years), has been a frequent collaborator on fish passage and hydraulics projects. Kathy Osen, NACOE’s Director of Administration and Finance received her milestone award for an impressive 35 years of service to MSU. She has offered administrative guidance and assistance to WTI for many years. The Milestones in Service ceremony was hosted by Dr. Waded Cruzado, who received her own award for 10 years of service as the President of MSU. The recorded ceremony is available to view on the MSU website.

Student Research Opportunities: Five Positions Available with Bozeman Commute Rebrand Project

Summary: The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) is seeking five MSU students for part-time, paid positions to support the development and implementation of a project to rebrand a local, online commuter platform.  Seeking students in marketing, graphic design, engineering, public health and sustainability.  Apply by November 13th, 2020.

Background

Logo for Bozeman Commuter project including tagline Rethink Transportation

Many people who work in Bozeman live far away due to high housing costs, resulting in long and expensive commutes. BozemanCommute.org is an online platform hosted by RideAmigos launched in 2018 in part to help people find more affordable commute options. However, the Bozeman Commute platform receives relatively limited use.  The Bozeman Commute Rebrand, social marketing and programs/outreach project will engage MSU students and partners from different sectors in the community including transit, economic development, sustainability, business, and transportation.  The project objectives include:

  1. Rebrand the Bozeman Commute program to appeal to a broader audience
  2. Development of a comprehensive social marketing campaign
  3. Develop programs and outreach events to engage more people in understanding their transportation options.

Position Description

The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) is seeking five MSU students who will be responsible for supporting WTI in the development and implementation of the rebrand project. The plan is to create a multi-disciplinary student team consisting of one student from each of the following disciplines:  marketing, graphic design, engineering, public health and sustainability.  It is anticipated that this team approach will foster a culture of collaboration among people who likely have differing backgrounds and viewpoints. Roles may include the creation of marketing and outreach materials, website development, event coordination and implementation, data collection and analysis, survey design and analysis, literature reviews, preparing project reports, and making presentations to various community groups. 

The work is anticipated to start in mid-November and be complete by early June or when the project is complete.  Students will report to the Bozeman Commuter Project Manager- Matt Madsen.  Students will be paid $14 per hour up to 80 hours total per student over the next 6 months.  It is anticipated students will work approximately 10-15 hours per month on average, though that time may vary depending on class and other commitments.   Work will be remote, virtual, and possibly in-person.

Required Skills/Qualifications

  1. Junior or Senior Level Undergrad or master’s Level Student in Engineering, Marketing, Graphic Design, Art, Community Health, or Sustainability.
  2. Ability to work independently as well as in a collaborative environment
  3. Experience with Webex and other internet-based meeting software
  4. Ability and willingness to work during the Snowmester
  5. Demonstrated oral and written communication skills
  6. Demonstrated experience with programs like MailChimp, SurveyMonkey, and others

For More Information/To Apply

Contact Matthew Madsen, MPH, Research Associate at the Western Transportation Institute.  Matthew.madsen@montana.edu  Please submit a resume and cover letter to the email address listed above.  Please indicate your area of specialty in your cover letter.

STUDENT NEWS: Students in CATS Program Spearhead Local Stormwater Survey

Logo for CATS student engagement program including icons of different project types

The City of Bozeman and Montana State University (MSU) students are partnering up to strengthen stormwater outreach efforts. Dr. Sarah Church, a professor in MSU’s Department of Earth Sciences, is leading a group of undergraduate students in a Geography course in the development of an online survey. This project is in collaboration with City staff who implement the City’s Stormwater Management Program. Bozeman residents received an insert in utility bills last month to encourage participation in the survey. Survey responses will help the City understand how to best create effective messaging and tailor programs specifically for Bozeman residents.

Dr. Church said that the students have worked hard over the past two months to learn about survey design and have developed excellent survey questions. “We are all excited to see the survey responses and the students are eager to begin analyzing the data to report back to the City – the more responses we get the more robust our findings will be,” Church said.

Frank Greenhill, a Water Quality Specialist with the City’s Stormwater Division, said that he is excited for the opportunity to work with such a talented group of students at MSU. “This is a great example of how a strong relationship between the City and MSU can work to solve complex local challenges.”

Mr. Greenhill also said that he is looking forward to analyzing the results of the survey as they will help the City key in on certain program areas and introduce new opportunities. “Surveys provide a valuable opportunity to hear from the customers we serve, and to reflect on what works, what does not, and, most importantly, what we can do better.”

Are you a Bozeman resident?

Support this project by completing the 10-15 minute survey available at the following link: www.tinyurl.com/bozemanstormwater

NEW PROJECT: MSU Researcher Receives Seed Grant for Commuter Project

outdoor portrait of Matt Madsen

Congratulations Matt Madsen!  He received a seed grant from MSU’s Outreach and Engagement Council, which will support a collaboration between MSU students and community partners, including Gallatin County and the city of Bozeman, to develop a social marketing plan and rebranding for BozemanCommute.org. The website encourages people to replace drive-alone trips to work with trips by bike, foot, bus, carpool, or vanpool and telework in the greater Bozeman area. Organizers hope the project will encourage higher participation and a greater understanding of transportation options available to people living in and around the greater Gallatin Valley.

Logo for Bozeman Commuter project including tagline Rethink Transportation

Watch for updates, including an announcement of student research opportunities related to this project.  To learn more about the seed grants and the other recipients, read the full MSU news release.

In the News: Humboldt County Transit Study Collecting Public Input

The Redheaded Blackbelt, a local online news outlet in Northern California, has published a feature story about a WTI-led transit study that is getting started in Humboldt County.  “New Study will Identify Ways to Improve Public Transit in McKinleyville” discusses the project which is currently in a public outreach phase.  The overall objectives are to assess public transit service within McKinleyville, identify connections between McKinleyville and other communities in the County, and develop recommendations for improving public transit in the area. Principal Investigator Andrea Hamre is leading the effort, in partnership with the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) and the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP).  Further information is available on the WTI project webpage.

ARC Solutions Presents Former WTI Director with a Lifetime Road Ecology Leadership Award

Steve Albert receives lifetime achievement award at ARC event 2020
Steve Albert

On October 20, ARC Solutions presented former WTI Director Steve Albert with a Lifetime Road Ecology Leadership Award in recognition of his enduring legacy in making our nation’s roads safer for both people and wildlife.A not-for-profit network working to promote leading-edge solutions to improve human safety, wildlife mobility and landscape connectivity, ARC celebrated Steve’s leadership, his encouragement, and his creativity, first as a co-founder of the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition and then as an original member of the ARC Steering Committee. Executive Director Renee Callahan highlighted a variety of successes supported and inspired by Steve during his decade-plus tenure with ARC, including:

“Winning 4 Wildlife” – Aimed at introducing middle school students to the concepts of safe passage and the need for creative wildlife-friendly solutions to make our highways safer, this curriculum was co-developed by three Montana teachers as part of WTI’s Innovative Transportation Systems Research Engagement for Teachersprogram in 2018.

WVC Reduction and Habitat Connectivity Pooled Fund Study – ARC partnered with the State of Nevada to launch a pooled fund study on WVC Reduction and Habitat Connectivity. Study members, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada, have since committed $1.275 million in research funds to identify cost-effective solutions to integrate highway safety and human mobility with wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity. WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser is leading a team of researchers conducting the research task to identify and evaluate cost-effective strategies.

Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Crossing Structure – In one of the research projects under the Pooled Fund Study, WTI is teaming with ARC Solutions, Ryerson University and the California Department of Transportation to explore design-based opportunities to build North America’s first fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) wildlife crossing in Siskiyou County, CA. A highly-versatile materialthat is durable, modular, and virtually maintenance free, FRP is widely used in Europe for bike-ped infrastructure and promises to be a game-changer in the construction of the next-generation of wildlife infrastructure in the U.S.

Renee Calahan makes presentation at ARC event 2020
Renee Callahan, ARC Solutions Executive Director

During the ceremony, ARC presented Steve with a keepsake card and commemorative print by renowned wildlife photographer Joe Riis depicting mule deer crossing a roadway within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Family, friends, and colleagues joined in the festivities by sharing personal and professional tributes illustrating Steve’s exceptional leadership within the field of road ecology. ARC is fiscally sponsored by the Center for Large Landscape Conservation in Bozeman, MT. To learn more about ARC’s work, please visit arc-solutions.org. To learn more about WTI’s research in this area, visit the WTI Road Ecology webpage.

Vermont Travel Study Featured in TRB Newsletter

The National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board (TRB) is raising awareness of a new WTI study on travel behavior, by highlighting it in its weekly newsletter.

Researchers Andrea Hamre and Jonathan Fisher recently completed “Travel Behavior and Transportation Planning Insights from the Small Urban Area of Chittenden County, Vermont: An Application of Traveler Segmentation,” sponsored by the Small Urban, Rural, and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM).  The primary purpose of this project was to analyze transportation planning and travel behavior of County residents, using data from four travel surveys conducted over the last 20 years.

The survey series collected information from respondents about travel preferences and priorities for regional transportation investments. The research team applied traveler segmentation to classify the survey sample into three modal orientations — Alternative [transportation] Oriented, Car Tolerant, and Car Oriented.

graphic for Vermont travel survey project showing that 49% of respondents are car tolerant, 28% are alternate dominant, and 23% are car dominant

According to the team’s analysis, nearly half (49%) of the respondents fell within the Car Tolerant segment. These respondents use their cars frequently, but also show a high willingness to change their travel behavior, as well as strong support for incentives to use alternative transportation. The team also found that Chittenden County adults would like fewer resources devoted to highways than are currently being allocated, and that support for gas tax increases is higher for non-highway purposes than for use exclusive to highways. These findings may help Chittenden County officials prioritize future transportation investments and develop multi-modal systems that meet a range of public needs.

The full report is available on the project webpage.

In the News: NBC Montana Highlights Traffic Calming Project in Ennis

Traffic calming delineators installed along Main Street in Ennis, Montana
Delineator installation on Main Street in Ennis, Montana

In the small town of Ennis, Montana, local officials and residents are concerned for the safety of pedestrians and motorists on Main Street (US 287), which is experiencing issues with increased traffic and speeding. WTI, in partnership with the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the Town of Ennis, recently completed the testing phase of a pop-up traffic calming installation to evaluate potential strategies. Spearheaded by WTI researchers Matt Madsen and Danae Giannetti, the project consisted of delineators placed in key locations on Main Street to slow down vehicles coming from the main highway. NBC Montana aired a feature story and interviewed WTI Director David Kack about the status and next steps for the project, which include evaluating its effectiveness and reviewing public feedback.

See the full news story on the NBC Montana website. To learn more about WTI’s traffic calming projects in other Montana towns, see our articles about traffic circles in Helena and street art in Bozeman.