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7/31/16 / RTI

  • Economic impact of the floods are too soon to call: industry experts

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CLARKSBURG — Five weeks after devastating floods hit southern West Virginia, economists are certain that monetary damages will take a hefty toll on the state, but say it is too early to quantify the economic impact.
“Impacts from flooding this severe are tremendously costly, but with the damage still being tallied and cleanup efforts ongoing, I’d hate to speculate on a specific figure or percentage,” said Kent Sowards, director of research and strategy for the Rahall Transportation Institute, Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research. “It is quite likely that the costs will be significant for individuals, municipalities and the state.”
“The economic impact on the state as a whole — damage to people’s homes and businesses — is difficult to measure at this point,” said Brian Lego, the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research’s economic forecaster.
Lego said, however, that the impact on infrastructure could spread beyond the southern region.
“A knock-off effect of infrastructure damage in the south is that the labor market will tighten, meaning wages will go up and the cost for building materials might increase throughout the state,” Lego said. “In early July, the state DOH estimated the cost to fix road damage to be near $47 million, but there might have been subsequent estimates.”
“Areas needing improvements or expansions to infrastructure (such as bridges and highways) that aren’t in federal recovery aid eligible areas are likely to feel the pinch as budgets are tightened even more,” Sowards said. “This is exacerbated by the recent budget gaps and the anticipated future revenue shortfalls in upcoming budget years.
“Current and/or planned infrastructure projects might be impacted if construction resources are pulled in to make emergency repairs or as project timelines are adjusted,” Sowards said. “Also, tourism dollars and the respective state revenues that accompany them aren’t flowing in the region in the wake of the flooding, which stands to extend the issue further.”
Meanwhile, federal and non-federal funding sources have already pitched in.
“As of July 15, the Red Cross estimates that emergency relief efforts could cost more than $5.5 million, and we have raised approximately $2 million in designated donations and pledges for the West Virginia floods,” said Krista Farley Raines, regional communications officer, American Red Cross West Virginia region.
Federal assistance has reached $72 million for West Virginia flood survivors, FEMA reported Thursday. That includes nearly $29.8 million in housing assistance, more than $5.4 million in other needs assistance and $1.43 million in public assistance.
In addition, the SBA has approved 426 low-interest disaster loans totaling more than $27.9 million. And 939 National Flood Insurance Program claims have been filed, totaling more than $7.5 million in payouts.
“The most visible economic impact will be job and revenue losses the state will experience from a decline in income taxes,” Lego said. “The most visible secondary issue will be the cost of road repair, which will whittle down the state’s rainy-day fund as a result.”
Staff writer Lisa Troshinsky can be reached at (304) 626-1445 or at ltroshinsky@theet.com

7/11/16 / RTI

  • RTI Software Engineer Brings Coding to Area Classroom in Outreach Effort

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HUNTINGTON, WV – Benjamin Frazier, a software engineer at Rahall Transportation Institute (RTI), prior to summer dismissal, visited Pritchard Elementary School in Grayson, KY, to educate students on various web-programming languages and demonstrate how these languages are used to create video games.

As part of an educational outreach effort, Frazier took time to visit his daughter’s fourth grade science class where he introduced students to first, second, third and fourth generation programming languages including HTML, Java, Assembly, Javascript and Python. In order to reach students, Frazier centered his discussion around how these languages can be used to manipulate elements within Minecraft, a popular online game that uses creative and building aspects to enable players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedural generated world. 

Frazier explained to students that coding is much like building something in Minecraft. For example, a fundamental unit to begin building something in Minecraft is called a block. It can be a stone block, lava block, ore block, etc., and with this fundamental unit, the user can construct buildings, roller coasters, etc.

“Programming is a lot like this,” Frazier said. “If the kids can get some fundamental things down about programming, they too can build whatever they want. It just takes some time to learn.”

As part of the activity, Frazier utilized TeachCraft challenges online at Github.com, an open source project created to get young people excited about programming. By completing these TeachCraft challenges, the students would learn they could manipulate the Minecraft world both programmatically and algorithmically. Frazier said he chose to use the TeachCraft challenges because he knew the challenges would ignite the kids’ imagination.

“I think it is important to introduce kids to coding because it can be an outlet for their creativity,” Frazier said. “For me, coding is a creative process, just like painting or building something with your hands. It’s also a lot of fun to program. I wanted to introduce them to how much fun it can be.”

5/21/16 / RTI

  • 45 Students Compete in the 2016 West Virginia Bridge Design & Build Contest -Winners Announced-

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HUNTINGTON, WV – On Saturday, May 21, 2016, the West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest finals took place at the Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex at Marshall University.  The West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest includes both computer-based bridge design and construction of a balsa bridge for load testing.  The qualifying round of the contest was open to West Virginia middle school and high school students grades 6-12 and focused only on the bridge design aspect, where students submitted bridge designs with the objective of designing the lowest cost bridge that will hold a required minimum load. At the conclusion of the qualifying round on Friday, April 1, the top-ranked teams were invited to compete in the Statewide Finals on Saturday.  Eleven Middle School teams and eleven high school teams participated in Saturday’s event, with each team consisting of one or two students.

During the Statewide Finals, teams in the Middle School and High School divisions competed head-to-head in two rounds of bride design, with each round consisting of different design scenarios.  Gift cards ranging from $50 to $200 were awarded based on the combined costs of the bridges for the two rounds.  The top 3 bridge design teams in each division were:

  • Middle School 1st Place:  Justin Dargo and Hunter Hall (St. Francis de Sales)
  • Middle School 2nd Place:  Alina Mackowiak (St. Francis de Sales)
  • Middle School 3rd Place:  Nathan Calvert and Davon Hampton (Edison Middle School)
  • High School 1st Place:  Nikita Zinzuwadia and Alyssa Christiansen (Woodrow Wilson High School)
  • High School 2nd Place:  Anthony Chen (University High School)
  • High School 3rd Place:  Summer McElwain (Greenbrier East High School)

The finalists were mailed materials to construct a balsa bridge that met certain specifications and those bridges were load tested during Saturday’s event.  All teams that constructed a balsa bridge doubled the award amount they earned in the bridge design portion of the contest.  Most of the bridges were loaded until they failed, which allowed the strength-to-weight ratio to be calculated for each bridge.  The most aesthetic bridge was also selected for each division.  The winners of the balsa bridge building were:

  • Middle School Most Aesthetic Bridge:  Emily Turner (Summers Middle School)
  • Middle School Highest Strength-to-Weight Ratio:  Alina Mackowiak (St. Francis de Sales)
  • High School Most Aesthetic Bridge:  Carlton Wykle and Jeremy Giese (Greenbrier East High School)
  • High School Highest Strength-to-Weight Ratio:  James Dishner and John Mullis (PikeView High School)

Sponsors of this year’s statewide contest are the WV Department of Transportation - Department of Highways, Rahall Transportation Institute (RTI), Marshall University College of Information Technology and Engineering (CITE), the Mid-Atlantic Transportation Sustainability University Transportation Center (MATS UTC), and BridgeWalk.

All contest finalists are listed below.

High School Finalists:

  • Anthony Chen (ABC Bridge) from University High School
  • Nikita N. Zinzuwadia and Alyssa M. Christiansen (ARCH RIVALS) from Woodrow Wilson High School
  • Sophie K. Klein (Bridge Bums) from PikeView High School
  • Charlotte E. Lilly and Andrea M. Blankenship (Bridge Please) from PikeView High School
  • Norman H. Cole (Bridgezilla) from PikeView High School
  • James E. Dishner and John W. Mullis (Brigand) from PikeView High School
  • Summer K. McElwain (Imagineer) Greenbrier East High School
  • Ethan N. Misner (Metagame) from Huntington High School
  • Carlton R. Wykle and Jeremy G. Giese (SoundTech1) from Greenbrier East High School
  • Erin E. Leslie Sarah D. Leslie (Thing1&Thing2) from Greenbrier East High School
  • Jordan N. Blaker (Live Laugh Build) from PikeView High School

Middle School Finalists

  • Lauren A. Pack and Jordan  B. Rutherford (Angottis Angry Angels) from Summers Middle School
  • Samuel M. Peck and Dominic W. Rotellini (ARCH BRIDGES) from St. Francis de Sales
  • Nathan E. Calvert and Davon T. Hampton (Beast Bridge Bros) from Edison Middle School
  • Christian D. Funari and Robert R. Miller II (Bridge Street 2) from Bridge Street Middle School
  • Roxxi J. Morris and Kayley E. Nichols (double trouble) from Summers Middle School
  • Emily S. McElwain and Cat S. Ziegler (Nice Dynamite) from Eastern Greenbrier Middle School 
  • Alina H. Mackowiak (puppyduck) from St. Francis de Sales
  • Rachel R. Fama and Bella G. Saddler (R&B) from St. Francis de Sales
  • Emily E. Turner (SuperSpan: Bridge of Steel) from Summers Middle School
  • Justin L. Dargo and Hunter A. Hall (Turtle Squad) from St. Francis de Sales
  • Zachery W. Meadows and Evan L. Rose (WV Bridgeneers) from Edison Middle School
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5/21/16 / The Herald Dispatch

  • Area students compete in statewide bridge contest

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HUNTINGTON - Approximately 25 teams of high school and middle school students competed in the final round of the West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest.

The top ranked teams were invited to participate in the finals Saturday at Marshall University in Huntington.

The statewide contest is intended to conduct outreach to middle school and high school students in the area of engineering, specifically civil engineering. The contest primarily covers bridge design, but teams invited to the final round also had the opportunity to compete in a bridge building contest.

The teams in the finals received a Balsa wood kit to construct a bridge and bring to the competition.

4/28/16 / MU Communications

  • Marshall’s dean of CITE receives Outstanding Civil Engineering Educator of the Year for 2015

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Dr. Wael Zatar, professor and dean of the College of Information Technology and Engineering at Marshall University, has been named recipient of the 2015 West Virginia Outstanding Civil Engineering Educator of the Year award by the West Virginia section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This award is a prestigious one, given to an individual who is a distinguished Civil Engineering educator, tenured faculty in a West Virginia Engineering School, a resident of the state of West Virginia at the time of nomination and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Only two awards have been given in West Virginia, and both recipients were faculty members at Marshall University.  Zatar was nominated by Shelley W. Porter, P.E., project manager of West Virginia American Water Company and a member of the WVASCE.

Zatar also is a past president of the West Virginia section of the ASCE.

Zatar serves as the director for the Multi-Modal Transportation and Infrastructure Consortium, Marshall University’s Transportation Center, Innovations and Asset Management of Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure Systems Program, and associate director of the Mid-Atlantic Transportation Sustainability Center.

He also has taught 12 undergraduate courses, four undergraduate laboratory classes, 11 graduate classes and two graduate laboratory classes, all of which were centered on analysis, behavior and design of concrete materials and structure.

Zatar has been a guest speaker for universities and institutions such as the University of Kentucky; North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina; the University of North Carolina in Charlotte; Cornell University; Santa Clara University; Savannah State University; West Virginia University; the University of Tokyo; Yokohama National University; Koichi University;  Japan Concrete Institute; the University of Kyoto; the Japan Prestressed Concrete Engineering Association; and the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

He has received recognition from the American Society of Civil Engineers, PreCast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, American Concrete Institute, Japan Society of Civil Engineers, Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences, the Transportation Research Board, Structural Engineering Institute, International Institute for FRP in Construction, and the National Computational Science Institute.

Previously employed at the University of Kentucky and West Virginia University Tech, Zatar has been at Marshall University for the past 10 years. He served as the interim dean of the College of Information Technology and Engineering (CITE) for nine months. He later became the permanent dean of CITE in May of 2012. He has over 25 years of research and experience in the field of pre-stressed concrete structures, seismic design and retrofit of bridge structures which gained him national and international acclaim as well as awards from the United States, Japan, Canada and  Mexico.

Zatar holds memberships in 24 professional organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, and he has guided the research work of 15 postdoctoral researchers, a few hundred graduate students and 275 undergraduate students in projects focusing on advancing the knowledge of precast and pre-stressed concrete, for which he also received the 2009 Precast/Pre-stressed Concrete Institute’s Distinguished Young Educator Achievement Award.

His research interests include, but are not limited to, bridge management, construction materials, highway testing, advanced experimental destructive and non-destructive testing, reinforced and prestressed concrete, ultra-high performance concrete, fiber-reinforced polymer composite bridges, green and sustainable highway structures, and many more.

Zatar has more than 100 technical publications in book chapters, international journals, peer-reviewed conferences and technical reports. He currently is serving as a member of 31 national engineering/education committees. Additionally, Zatar has served as a reviewer and has participated in editorial boards of the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Concrete Institute, Prestressed Concrete Institute, Japan Concrete Institute and the Japan Society of Civil Engineers.

3/28/16 / The Herald-Dispatch

  • RTI partners with WVDOT for bridge design contest

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HUNTINGTON - The Nick J. Rahall, II Appalachian Transportation Institute (RTI) works with industry, government and universities to advance multimodal transportation, research and technology solutions for economic growth and development.

RTI is recognized as a Center of Excellence in the areas of applied transportation research, economic development, technology development, workforce development and training, according to a news release from the organization.

Recently, RTI partnered with the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) to present the 2016 West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest.

The West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest is a statewide contest intended to conduct STEM-related outreach activities to middle school and high school students in the areas of engineering, specifically civil engineering. The contest provides opportunities for interaction and collaboration with professionals and others in STEM- related fields.

This contest aims to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the engineering design; process with realistic, hands-on experiences; demonstrate how engineers use computers and software as tools to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the design process; afford the opportunity for students to apply their problem solving and bridge design skills by constructing a bridge from balsa wood material.

Formerly the West Point Bridge Design Contest and the West Virginia Bridge Design Contest, this statewide contest is a localized version of the nationwide contest organized by Engineering Encounters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to high quality engineering outreach programs. Using Engineering Encounters' Bridge Designer software, students will compete in teams of two to create the most cost-effective and fully-functional bridge design.

The WV Statewide Qualifying Round runs from February 1, 2016 until April 1, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. The top ranked teams entered in the WV Statewide Contest will be invited to participate in the Statewide Finals to take place on May 21, 2016 at Marshall University in Huntington.

The contest primarily covers bridge design, but teams invited to the final round will also have the opportunity to develop their bridge building skills. Teams attending the statewide finals will be mailed a balsa wood kit to construct a bridge in advance of the finals.

At the finals, these model bridges will be evaluated by a panel of judges for aesthetics and creativity, then load-tested until failure to determine their strength.

Other supporters and sponsors of the 2016 West Virginia Bridge Design & Build Contest include BridgeWalk, MATS and Marshall University (CITE).

For more information about RTI and the 2016 West Virginia Bridge Design and Build Contest, visit http://www.njrati.org and http://wvbridgedesignandbuild.com.

3/11/16 / The Herald-Dispatch

  • Public asks for PATH connectors, maintenance

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HUNTINGTON - Cyclists, runners and walkers had a chance to share their ideas on the future of the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, or PATH, during a public workshop Thursday night at the Marshall University Memorial Student Center.

Many in attendance said the development of PATH thus far has been outstanding, but they would like to see all of PATH's trails connected.

PATH consists of more than 15 miles of trails, bike lanes and bike sharrows. It provides safe alternative transportation routes throughout Huntington and surrounding areas and serves as an avenue for people to get and stay active.

Zeke Smith, president of Huntington Road Runners, said his group consists of avid PATH users who run through the trail at Spring Hill Cemetery, Washington Boulevard and Ritter Park. The trails are fairly close together but not connected. He said once the PATH trail ends they are forced to make their own routes.

"It seems as if the growth of PATH has been kind of stagnant for the past few years so we would love to see more done with it," Smith said.

"The really frustrating part is that while these trails, for instance Guyandotte, are so beautiful there is no real maintenance being done, which stinks because I know a lot of money was invested in them."

These desires and concerns are nothing new to Amanda Payne, trails program area manager for the Rahall Transportation Institute. She said addressing maintenance responsibilities is a top priority that will be laid out in an updated master plan for PATH.

To complete this master plan, RTI has partnered with the city of Huntington to help determine in what direction PATH will go next. Payne expects to have PATH's master plan complete by the end of June.

They have also partnered with the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, West Virginia Division of Highways and other entities the trail would run through to form an advisory board focused on creating a clear and concise vision for the future of the trail system.

During the public workshop, 10 large maps were set up on tables throughout the room displaying the 10 neighborhoods of Huntington. Community members where then asked to mark the routes on which they bike, run or walk on a regular basis.

Payne said the feedback will help them determine which additions to PATH would be most beneficial to its users. Some of the expansion and maintenance costs will be funded by a recently awarded Transportation Alternative Programs grant of $500,000.

PATH was named after Dr. Paul Ambrose, a young physician who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Huntington native worked on family health and preventative medicine to fight obesity, and PATH is a way for his efforts to continue to impact the health of Huntington.

His parents, Ken and Sharon Ambrose, have supported PATH since it inception and were in attendance Thursday night at the workshop.

"We are excited to see where things go from here," Sharon Ambrose said. "It's so nice to have this active memorial for our son that has been so well received and used by the community."

3/7/16 / The Herald-Dispatch

  • PATH officials ponder trail’s next step

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HUNTINGTON - When the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, or PATH, was first envisioned in 2006, the idea was to connect Huntington's parks and provide a recreational trail for the community to safely enjoy.

Now, 10 years later, much of that vision has been accomplished, and local officials are looking to establish the next direction for PATH.

PATH consists of more than 15 miles of trails, bike lanes and bike sharrows that provide safe alternative transportation routes throughout Huntington and surrounding areas.

It was named after Dr. Paul Ambrose, a young physician who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Huntington native worked on family health and preventative medicine to fight obesity.

PATH is a way for his efforts to continue to impact the health of Huntington by providing people with safe avenues to get and stay active. And many have taken advantage of using the trails.

Local people also have got behind the project by participating in a variety of projects that help finance maintenance and improvements to the trail.

Three major events that help raise money for PATH are Fit Fest, PATH to the Cure and Tour de PATH. Each event promotes healthy lifestyles through multiple run/walk races as well as bike rides.

The 7th annual Fit Fest took place Sept. 13 and raised more than $50,000.

The first leg of PATH was built in 2009 at St. Cloud Commons Park, and from there, the project blossomed.

"Since then, (PATH) has exploded, and we wanted to do more than just connect parks," said Amanda Payne, trails program area manager for the Rahall Transportation Institute. "We want to connect the entire community. We want to have an area all throughout Huntington where people can safely get from point A to point B."

With this in mind, developers of PATH - RTI, the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District and the city of Huntington - are asking the question, "What is next for PATH?" They hope to answer that by gathering public opinion and updating a master plan for the trail system.

Improving safety
In the past year, PATH expanded to add more bike sharrows, or shared lane bicycle markings, including one on 10th Street that connects the Ritter Park trail with the Harris Riverfront Park trail.

Along this section of roadways, multiple signs were placed in order to inform motorists that the state requires them to give bicyclists at least three feet of room.

The new law also eliminates a former provision that required cyclists to use an adjacent path instead of the road if available.

"PATH has really done a great job at making bike lane and trails more visible and giving an opportunity to have people safely bike, run or walk through town," Payne said. "I grew up in Huntington, and I don't think people really had that type of security and safety before now."

As far as other expansions, Payne said a focus has been placed more on fundraising and collecting various ideas on where the people of Huntington would like to see PATH go next.

In order to give community residents a chance to have their voice heard, RTI will host a public workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 10, in the Marshall University Memorial Student Center.

"This is Huntington's trail, so the citizens of Huntington should have a say in what we do next," Payne said.

According to Payne, one of the main reasons for the meeting is to help RTI and the city determine how a recently awarded Transportation Alternative Programs grant for $500,000 should be spent.

A new master plan
To develop even more ideas, RTI also has entered into an agreement with the City of Huntington to create a new master plan for PATH.

Payne said the initial master plan and feasibility study was done more than five years ago and has now become extremely outdated.

The new plan will not only help determine what's next for the direction of PATH, but it will also lay out responsibilities and feasibility for future trails.

As it stands now, Breanna Shell, a planner for the city's Department of Development and Planning, said because PATH runs through numerous entities, operations and maintenance for the trail has been taken on by several organizations.

"In the beginning, there really isn't much maintenance to be done, but now that PATH is expanding, we really need to articulate whose responsibility it is to carry out and fund repairs," Shell said.

"We are also trying to determine feasibility as far as how would our next priority or step be feasible financially and construction-wise. We just want to lay all that out so we can make an informed decision moving forward."

In order to create a clear and concise vision for the future of PATH, the developers created an advisory board, which includes representatives from the city of Huntington, GHPRD, RTI, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, West Virginia Division of Highways and other entities the trail would run through.

One question the advisory board is attempting to answer is "What is the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health?"

"That was something that wasn't really discussed in the beginning, but we're actually really trying to dig down and figure out what is PATH," Payne said.

As the advisory board plots the next course for PATH, Payne said it has decided to eliminate the original projected completion date of 2024.

"There has been a lot more momentum than what anybody could have envisioned or realized," Payne said. "When you look at bike path systems across the country, even very sophisticated bike path systems, they are still working on expanding, so I don't think it's something you can ever put an end date on."

Although what's next for PATH has yet to be decided, Payne said the organizers will do what they have always done and follow the will of the people.

"It is not the most innovative process, but doing so has led to the majority of our success," she said.

On the web
To find out more about PATH and ways to get involved, Amanda Payne, trails program area manager for Rahall Transportation Institute, said she encourages people to check out the newly revamped website at paulambrosetrail.org.

The new site offers interactive maps so viewers can easily find sections of PATH that have already been built throughout Huntington.

It allows people to better plan a walk, run or bike ride and connects them with ways to volunteer or donate to PATH.