The 2019 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting kicked off over the weekend in Washington, D.C. At the Council of University Transportation Center (CUTC) banquet on Saturday, the University Transportation Center (UTC) Students of the Year were honored. Each UTC nominates an outstanding graduate student who receives a certificate from the U.S. Department of Transportation, a $1000 award, and travel expenses to attend the TRB Annual Meeting. The Small Urban and Rural Livability Center (SURLC) and the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), both led by WTI, each had the opportunity to recognize the research accomplishments of an exemplary student this year.
Congratulations to Karalyn Clouser, who was selected as the SURLC Student of the Year. Karalyn has been a Research Associate at WTI for five years and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Sustainable Transportation at the University of Washington. With her background in Planning and GIS, she has provided invaluable research assistance not only to SURLC, but also to the National Center for Rural Road Safety and the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Technical Assistance Center. Most recently, she completed a project where she developed four different bus route combinations for a potential new transit service in Lebanon, Missouri. She also helped update the Rural ITS Toolkit, a USDOT-sponsored resource on advanced transportation technologies.
Kudos also go out to Zachary Becker who was selected to represent SURTCOM. Zach attends Eastern Washington University, where he is nearing completion of a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning. His research focuses on the mobility and accessibility challenges faced by tribal reservations in northwestern states. He created a parcel-level, GIS database containing network distances from nearly every parcel in Washington state to the nearest healthcare facility. The database compares distances on tribal reservations to distances on nontribal lands. Zach has been invited to present this research at four national conferences.
Last week, Explore Big Sky published a special feature on its picks for the most important local news stories of the year. Top of the list – the $10 million federal TIGER grant awarded to the Big Sky, Montana region for roadway, transit, and trail improvements. In the article, WTI Program Manager David Kack discusses working with partners in the Big Sky community to identify critical transportation needs and develop the successful proposal. More information about the grant is available on the WTI news page.
The Asheville (NC) Citizen Times interviewed WTI Research Scientist Marcel Huijser for the feature article “Bridges for Bears: Do Wildlife Corridors Work?” Marcel discusses wildlife crossing structure success stories in Banff National Park and on U.S. 93 in Montana. Read the full interview or learn more about the WTI Road Ecology program on our website. The Citizen Times also interviewed Marcel on the costs and benefits of wildlife crossing structures for a follow up article called “Bringing Back Historic Wildlife Migration Corridors to the Mountains.”
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.”
WTI recently completed a public transportation feasibility study for the City of Lebanon, a community of approximately 15,000 people in southcentral Missouri. The City of Lebanon is interested in whether a public transportation system could help connect more residents to jobs, educational opportunities and local services.
Project Manager Natalie Villwock-Witte, working with Karalyn Clouser and David Kack, analyzed a wide range of issues related to launching and operating a public transportation system, including a needs assessment, service area analyses, asset acquisition, cost analyses, funding opportunities, marketing strategies, and sustainability. The team completed an extensive effort to identify, map, and analyze potential usage of different service routes for the City of Lebanon to consider.
“Through our surveys and site visits, we had the opportunity to work with the community and its partner organizations to understand exactly who needs mobility services and where they need to go,” said Villwock-Witte, “by the end of the project, we were able to provide them with some viable options and strategies that should help them move forward with planning a public transportation system.”
This project is sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, as part of a larger contract called Technical Assistance for Rural Transportation Systems: Connecting Rural Transportation with Economic Opportunity (funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture). This project, and two similar projects, were managed by the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), the USDOT University Transportation Center led by WTI. More information about the project, including the final report, is available here.
Riders sought from Three Forks, Livingston and other nearby towns
The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) in partnership with the City of Bozeman and Montana State University is working to reduce the number of drive-alone trips and make more efficient use of current transportation systems. This project aims to connect more people to the places they want to go via bus, walking, biking and ridesharing/carpooling.
As part of that effort, the Bozeman Commuter Project is organizing a pilot vanpool program. Vanpools can save people money, reduce the wear and tear on personal vehicles, and reduce the stress of commuting. The pilot vanpools will be free to users. For each vanpool, project coordinators are looking for 4-9 people with similar destinations and schedules who are interested in trying their commute via vanpool. The specific route and schedule of the vanpool will be determined by the members. In case of necessities such as family illnesses, vanpool members will have access to a guaranteed ride home. So far, there are 18 people interested from Three Forks, Manhattan, Churchill, Belgrade, and Livingston. A meeting will be scheduled in the next few weeks, to work on specific details, with the intent of starting the vanpools in January.
“Providing transportation options that are convenient, healthy and affordable — in addition to drive alone commuting — is important as Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley grow,” said Vanpool Coordinator Taylor Lonsdale. “By introducing area residents to the many benefits of vanpools, we hope this project will continue and grow, so more commuters can participate.”
For more information and to sign up for a vanpool contact Taylor Lonsdale at WTI. firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 994-7031.
The Spokesman – Review of Spokane, Washington interviewed Center Director, Dr. Nic Ward, about a recent survey done by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and the Center for Health and Safety Culture. The survey found that nine percent of Washington residents say they have driven after drinking and using cannabis.
Read the story and see the survey results.