BOZEMAN – The Western Transportation Institute(WTI) at Montana State University(MSU) has been awarded two grants from the Federal Highway Administration to establish and lead two new transportation centers. The two major federal grants will establish new centers for training, education, research and workforce development.
“The Western Transportation Institute is a leader in cutting edge transportation research,” said Sen. Jon Tester. “I am pleased WTI won these awards to make our roads safer and train the next generation of transportation workers.”
Now in its 20th year, WTI is part of the MSU College of Engineering and is the nation’s largest federally sanctioned university transportation center focused on rural transportation issues.
“We are pleased that the Western Transportation Institute will take a nationally prominent role in saving lives in rural America, as well as training the current and future transportation workforce,” said Steve Albert, WTI executive director.
With $4.8 million over four years in federal funding and support from partner organizations, WTI will lead and house the new Rural Safety Center for Excellence. The center will offer training, technical support and information to transportation practitioners around the country, with the ultimate goal of helping them reduce serious injuries and fatalities on the roads that they manage.
Partners include Institute for Transportation (InTrans) at Iowa State University, the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation at Rutgers University, Cambridge Systematics, Inc., the IDT Group, and the Four Corners Tribal Technical Assistance Center. The center will also work closely with the local technical assistance programs in Louisiana, Montana, Iowa and New Jersey.
“We have built a solid public-private partnership that has developed and delivered innovative transportation training to a broad range of agencies, including local, state and tribal,” said Keith Knapp, director of the Iowa Local Technical Assistance Program at InTrans. “We will also have the geographic coverage across the U.S. as team members to efficiently address safety training and technical assistance needs on a regional basis.”
The center’s programs will be targeted at transportation practitioners in rural road agencies, which manage 80 percent of the surface road network in the U.S.; drivers on these roads face a disproportionate share of safety risks, including 55 percent of roadway fatalities, high rates of crashes in which vehicles go off the road, as well as emergency response times that are 50 percent longer than those in urban/suburban areas.
“WTI understands that a safer, reliable transportation network is good for families and businesses in Montana and across rural America,” Tester said. “I am proud to support the work they do.”
Nicholas Ward, the MSU professor of mechanical engineering and WTI-affiliated research scientist who leads the Center for Health and Safety Culture and will serve as principal scientist for the Center for Excellence grant, said the new center will be critical to understanding the unique needs of rural road agencies by providing necessary information and workforce development in a manner that is relevant and accessible to these communities.
“The higher risk of fatal and serious crashes in rural areas dictates the need to conduct state-of-the-art research about those risk factors that are unique to the rural environment, including driver behavior and local cultures, and then ensuring this information is integrated into road agency practices through workforce development and outreach,” Ward said.
A second grant from Federal Highway Administration and partner organization support will give a $1.2 million budget over four years to the new Regional Surface Transportation Workforce Center. Working in partnership with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University, WTI will be enhancing access to education, outreach and training programs in a 10-state western region, with the ultimate goal of growing the transportation workforce.
The center will enhance transportation workforce development activities with K-12 outreach, programs at technical schools, community colleges and universities, as well as with and continuing education for practitioners.
“Traffic safety leadership in Montana being recognized in such a way will help us improve the safety of all our citizens,” said Mike Tooley, director of the Montana Department of Transportation.
The Regional Surface Transportation Workforce Center, which will include eight western states from Nebraska and the Dakotas west to Oregon and Washington, will address workforce development challenges – an aging workforce, fewer new entrants into the transportation field and changing employee expectations, Albert said.
“In North Dakota alone, 30 percent of their department of transportation workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years,” Albert said.
WTI, founded in 1994 by the Montana Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation and MSU’s College of Engineering, is the largest university transportation center focused on rural issues in the country, with a staff that includes 70 professional researchers, staff and affiliated faculty and an annual research budget of approximately $10 million. WTI is currently the largest research center on the MSU campus. In addition to these two new centers, WTI houses several other specialized centers, including:
The Small Urban and Rural Livability Center, WTI’s newest University Transportation Center, which leads initiatives to expand public transportation, bicycle/pedestrian facilities, and other modes that promote “livability” in small towns and rural areas.
The Center for Health and Safety Culture, which pursues innovative approaches to enhance health and safety by transforming cultural attitudes at the community level on critical issues such as impaired driving and seatbelt use.
The Federal Lands Transportation Institute, which provides assistance and information to public land managers who are implementing alternative transportation projects on national parks, recreation areas, and other federal land units.
The Montana Local Technical Assistance Program, which provides safety, leadership and new skills training to local transportation workers throughout the state.
The Road Dust Institute, which collects and disseminates information and guidance on cost-effective and environmentally sustainable management of unpaved roads.
“Over the last 20 years, we have built up a strong foundation of training and technical assistance experience, as well as a wealth of information on our pioneering rural safety research,” said Albert, who will also serve as director for the Center for Excellence. “We are excited to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ center that will make this information easily accessible to (state transportation departments) and transportation professionals around the country, as well as a center that will help develop our region’s transportation workforce.”