News

Road Ecologist Helps Launch Wednesday Webinars

Marcel Huijser

The Society for Ecological Restoration has started a “Wednesday Webinar” series to promote information sharing and professional development in response to conference cancellations.  One of the first invited speakers was WTI Research Scientist Marcel Huijser, who led a webinar on March 25 on “Open Access: Where Road Ecology and Ecological Restoration Converge.” The presentation focused on new approaches designed to shift from providing safe crossing opportunities for large mammals to restoring habitat connectivity for a wide range of species groups.  The webinar is available on the ECR Webinar webpage.

The following day, Marcel also presented via webinar at the University of Montana, which has transitioned its courses to online delivery.  He gave a remote lecture on road ecology to the students of WILD 370, Wildlife Biology, a course taught by Professor Mark Hebblewhite, who leads the UM Ungulate Ecology Lab.

“Rural Matters” at Commute.com

On April 1, Education and Workforce Program Manager Susan Gallagher presented at CommuteCon2020, a virtual gathering of national experts exploring issues related to the “science of smart commuting,” such as telework, commuter behavior, and emerging travel modes.  Susan’s presentation, entitled “Rural Matters,” addressed how professional capacity building and workforce development initiatives are needed to support the development and implementation of transportation solutions and new technologies in rural areas.  Her presentation is available on the CommuteCon webpage.

Message from the Director: Our Research and Work Continues

Portrait of David Kack from 2020

Greetings from WTI! To staff, research partners, and friends of WTI who read our newsletter, I hope you are all staying safe and healthy.

During this extraordinary time, we are all understandably focused on the immediate and critical needs of ourselves, our families, and our communities. To the extent possible, however, WTI continues to conduct research, follow up on current projects, and assess future research opportunities. As Jason Carter, Vice-President of Research for Montana State University, said last week: “This event brings into sharp focus the importance of our research mission to push the boundaries of human knowledge in all directions. The research we conduct today has the potential to save lives tomorrow, and make for a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world.”

We are fortunate that many of our researchers can safely conduct their work from home and other remote locations as needed. The WTI headquarters offices are quieter than usual, but administrative, financial, and communications staff are available to provide support to WTI staff and all of our research partners.

Clearly, national and local conditions are changing rapidly, thus we will continue adapting how, where, and when we work. To our research partners, please keep in touch if you have current needs, or want to discuss evolving or emerging issues that may change where we focus our collaborative efforts in the future.

Communication remains more important than ever. While my “open door” approach is still in place, the door itself may have to be virtual for a few more weeks. Feel free to contact me at dkack@montana.edu or at 406-994-7526.

David Kack, Interim Executive Director

LTAP Director Named to TRB Low Volume Roads Committee

Head shot of LTAP Director Matt Ulberg

Matt Ulberg, director of Montana’s Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), has been named to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Standing Committee on Low-Volume Roads — AFB30. TRB is one of seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conducts other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. Through their appointment, members agree to actively participate in and support the committee’s activities, including those that will require volunteer work. This TRB committee provides strategic planning for research and serves as a clearinghouse for information and resources pertaining to all aspects of low-volume roads including planning, design, construction, safety, maintenance operations, environmental, and social issues.

 WTI has a long history of participation on the TRB Low Volume Roads Committee, given the importance of low volume roads in rural transportation networks.  WTI Program Manager Laura Fay is also a member of this committee, and was one of the key organizers of the TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads, hosted in Montana in 2019.

Do You Know a Good Candidate for the Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program?

ogo: Transportation icons including, shuttle bus, hiker, cyclist, tour boat and car. Text: Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program

The application process for the 2020 Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) Class is now open!! The PLTF program provides fellowships to recent graduates (sometimes current graduate students) in a transportation-related engineering, planning, or resource management program. They receive a unique opportunity for learning, career development, and public service within a federal land unit or agency headquarters.  This year, the program is seeking applications for five positions: one at the Southeast National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Louisiana, one at the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Complex in Massachusetts, and three within the National Park Service.  Learn more at the PLTF Application webpage, then help us get the word out!

CHSC Grad Student Competes in Finals of Thesis Competition

Jubaer Ahmed making research presentation with large presentation slide projected behind him in 2020Congratulations to Jubaer Ahmed, who was one of seven finalists in the “Three Minute Thesis” Competition hosted by the Montana State University College of Engineering. On February 27, he presented “How Does Emotional Intelligence Predict Driving Behavior?” before a full house of faculty, students, and community members in the COE Inspiration Hall.  The topic builds on his research for his Ph.D. and for the Center for Health and Safety Culture, where he works in collaboration with his advisor (and CHSC Director) Nic Ward.

Three Minute Thesis is a research communication competition developed by the University of Queensland in Australia. It encourages graduate students to develop their presentation skills and learn how to explain complex concepts to general audiences. Competitors must give an engaging summary of their research in only 180 seconds, using only one slide.

Winter Maintenance in the News

Laura Fay -WTI Research ScientistWinter’s not over yet (especially here in Montana), so winter maintenance is still a hot topic in the national media.  In February, Next City published an in-depth feature entitled “Cities Are Cutting the Salt from their Winter Road Diets,” which focused on alternatives to salt and brine for roadway snow and ice control.  WTI’s Cold Climate Operations Program Manager Laura Fay is quoted in the article, discussing environmental and sustainability issues related to deicers, as well as the value of best management practices, such as equipment calibration. The National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board then shared the story via Twitter, highlighting Laura’s quote “If you’re applying the right material at the right time, you’ll save on product, money, and time.”

New Publication: NCHRP Publishes Study on Valuing Wildlife Crossings

car on a rural highway approaching a wildlife overpass in mountainous regionTwo WTI Road Ecologists are authors of a newly published study that explored the use of mitigation credits for transportation projects. Rob Ament and Marcel Huijser, in collaboration with research partners at the engineering firm of WSP USA, led the research for “Valuing Wildlife Crossings and Enhancements for Mitigation Credits,” a project sponsored by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), part of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Mitigation crediting could provide a valuation approach for state DOTs interested in promoting the construction of wildlife crossings and other enhancements to mitigate transportation project impacts.

The report includes extensive information collected from a survey of more than 200 state DOTs and natural resource agencies on valuation methods and mitigation credits that have been used by state DOTs and their partners, as well as potential methods and approaches that could be developed in the future.  The study also highlights four case studies of wildlife connectivity mitigation from California, Colorado, and Florida.

The report is available for download from the National Academies Press website. The American Association of Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) also highlighted the publication in its daily newsletter last week.

Upcoming Webinar: Traffic Safety Culture Messaging

Logo for National Center for Rural Road SafetyThe National Center for Rural Road Safety will offer a free webinar on Wednesday, March 25 on “Traffic Safety Culture Messaging.” It will feature information on the forms, frame, and design of effective traffic safety messages, which are developed by applying an understanding of traffic safety culture. The webinar will be presented by Center for Health and Safety Culture Director Nic WardWebinar registration information is available on Safety Center website.

Project News: California Site Selected for First FRP Wildlife Crossing in North America

Matthew Bell presents at a wildlife crossings workshop
Matthew Bell at Wildlife Crossing design co-lab

WTI Researchers are collaborating on a research project to develop, implement and evaluate a wildlife crossing structure made of Fiber-reinforced polymers (FRPs), a strong but lightweight composite material that could significantly reduce the construction and maintenance costs of wildlife overpasses and associated infrastructure elements.  In recent project news, an FRP wildlife crossing will be designed for a location on US Highway 97 in Siskiyou County, California – the first of its kind on this continent.

The project has evolved out of several research collaborations at WTI.  In May 2018, WTI and its partners, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and ARC (Animal Road Crossing) Solutions hosted a design collaboration laboratory (Co-lab) on FRP-based wildlife crossing structures. The Co-lab engaged experts in engineering, landscape architecture, and ecology from across North America and set the stage for further exploration of FRP material use in wildlife crossing infrastructure.

Also, in 2019 WTI was selected to lead a team of researchers for a Transportation Pooled Fund Study (PFS) administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation and co-sponsored by the State Departments of Transportation of AK, AZ, CA, IA, MN, NM, OR, and WA, as well as Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada Agency.  The FRP structural design, implementation and evaluation will be conducted as part of the Pooled Fund Study. Marcel Huijser is the PI for the overall Transportation Pool Fund Study, which will identify a range of cost-effective solutions to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.  Matthew Bell, Damon Fick and Rob Ament are leading the FRP design project component; Mat had the opportunity to present a poster on FRP research at the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in January 2020.