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7/14/2014 / Charleston Daily Mail

  • RTI CEO Attends WV Transportation and Infrastructure Summit

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The uncertainty in the nation’s transportation infrastructure system is “creating an invisible crisis,” according to the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Anthony Foxx, speaking Monday at the West Virginia Transportation and Infrastructure Summit, said forecasts show the U.S. will be $1.8 trillion behind in transportation infrastructure spending by 2020.

Part of that is caused by partisan gridlock over the reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, which in part reimburses states for federally funded highway projects. Money in the fund is expected to run out next month, and departments of transportation across the country will soon have to decide if they will stop or cut back highway projects and affect about 700,000 jobs.

“States can’t plan,” Foxx said.

Foxx, 40, pointed out past generations have worked to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure, including railways and the interstate highway system. But because Congress hasn’t taken action — 27 continuing resolutions have been passed in the last few years to fund the Highway Trust Fund, but no long-term solution has been reached — the current generation is poised to leave things in worse shape for future generations.

“My generation of Americans started out pretty well,” Foxx said. “We had the highest standard of living in the world, the strongest, most innovative economy, the best education. We did so because prior generations had blessed us with their own grit, their own determination, their own sacrifices, their own commitment to the future.”

In recent years, the U.S. has begun to slip in global rankings. Some speakers at the summit suggested the nation’s crumbling infrastructure system is at least partly to blame.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., a ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said other countries are continuing to invest in their infrastructure systems and pull ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic development and the ability to compete in the global marketplace.

“It is certainly a critical time for our nation’s transportation and infrastructure,” Rahall said. “Modern, safer transportation networks have induced economic development, brought jobs, improved opportunities and have increased the efficiency and profits of businesses here in West Virginia and beyond.”

Although Congress has been slow to act on reauthorizing the Highway Trust Fund, the vast majority of Americans support increased spending on transportation and infrastructure. Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, said a study found the U.S. spends less than 2 percent of gross domestic product on transportation annually.

“Americans overwhelmingly support increasing our infrastructure investment as evidence by consistent support for local investments at the ballot box,” Betz said. “American satisfaction ranks 25th of 32 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations for satisfaction in public transit and 17th overall for satisfaction with our roads.

“More than 90 percent of Americans support an increase in transportation infrastructure spending. With the federal gas tax stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon for 20 years, how can we expect to maintain a transportation system that is safe?”

Betz isn’t the only transportation expert to note the stagnant federal gas tax. Others argue the tax no longer funds the transportation system as it did in 1993, as fewer people drive and fuel-efficient cars are becoming more popular.

“As cars become more and more fuel efficient, which is a good thing, the average car now gets 25 to 30 miles per gallon where 10 or 15 years ago it got 15 or 20,” Larry Malone, project manager for West Virginians for Better Transportation, told the Daily Mail last week. “That means people can spend less on gasoline. When you spend less on gasoline, the number of gallons you buy, when that goes down so does the revenue to the road fund. The road fund is constrained right now because of better fuel efficient vehicles and also inflation has been eating away at the total dollars.”

Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have introduced a plan that would increase the gas tax by six cents and tie future gas tax increases to inflation. Other, similar plans are on the table as well.

Since 2008, the federal government has taken $50 billion from general funds to fund the needs of the nation’s transportation infrastructure, said Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Union. As Congress stalls on the Highway Trust Fund, seven states have already cut back on their highway projects while 28, including West Virginia, have announced their plans to scale back. But it doesn’t need to be that way, Ruane said.

“The opportunity is right there in front of us,” he said. “Congress needs to seize the moment.”

 

06/14/2014 / Herald Dispatch

  • RTI and CBER Employees Touch-Up 10th Street Underpass

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Nearly 20 employees from the Rahall Transportation Institute and the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research left the office Friday morning to grab paint brushes and trash bags to do some summer sprucing.

Their goal was to touch up the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health mural located at the 10th Street underpass and clean trash and debris from the area. Employees from RTI and Bulldog Creative Services were the primary painters of the mural in 2011, and Emily Hagan, marketing programs project specialist for RTI, said getting volunteers to come out and maintain it has never been a problem.

"So far we have come out once a year to maintain the area," Hagan said. "We don't want to just come out one time, do a project and leave it alone. We want it to stay looking nice for the city."

Hagan said the underpass is a direct gateway connecting downtown Huntington with Ritter Park. She said she was surprised when she first realized how many people use the walkway for exercise or going from one place to another.

Amanda Payne, trails program manager, said as a Huntington resident she is happy to take part in helping the city look nice.

"In college I just lived a few blocks from here, and it's interesting to see the change this mural and the PATH have made," Payne said. "I run here and used to walk this way to go to work, and it's much nicer than just a plain wall."

The Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH) is a bicycle and pedestrian trail system that provides free, healthy recreational opportunities for Huntington and surrounding areas. Hagan said reception of the initiative has been outstanding the past few years, and multiple cities have contacted RTI to inquire how they can replicate the PATH project.

05/11/2014 / Herald Dispatch

  • New Director Aims to Strengthen Center’s Role in Community

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HUNTINGTON -- Right in downtown Huntington there is a center dedicated to providing economic, policy and financial research and a variety of other services to the region -- and that center just brought in a new leader who plans to help it continue to prosper just like the businesses it works with.

Jennifer Shand, Ph.D., recently took on the role of director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall University, which falls under the umbrella of the Nick J. Rahall, II Appalachian Transportation Institute (RTI). She said she believes her ability to effectively communicate with business owners and leaders will be a valuable asset to CBER.

"I like to get to know people, to know what it is they are doing and make connections," Shand said. "I think sometimes researchers get too bogged down in the technique. Yes, there's power in doing the best analysis you can and make sure everything is completely correct in the academic sense, but if we can't present that in a way people can understand and digest then the information just goes into a paper and stays there."

CBER is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to being a resource for information. Shand said she is excited to help lead a top-notch research center and develop business and economy in West Virginia and the Tri-State.

The center focuses on energy, education, health, regional development and economics -- all of which are vital to Huntington and the region's growth, Shand said.

"Our most well-developed program areas are energy and national resources economics and demographics," Shand said. "We are trying to explore more how we can reach out to, particularly, the local community and local business. That's a relationship we look to really strengthen."

Shand said through her previous roles at the Economic Center at the University of Cincinnati and Virginia Tech's Office of Economic Development she became aware of CBER and Marshall University. When the opportunity presented itself to take the role of director in Huntington, she said she felt it would be a great fit -- and so far it has been.

Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of RTI and CBER, said the organization is honored to have Shand join the team.

"Her education, as well as her experience in the realms of regional economics and economic development will add tremendous value to our clients, partners and stakeholders," Betz said. "I look forward to working with her in continuing the CBER tradition of quality research and independent analysis to aid economic decision making in the region."

Shand said even in the small amount of time she has been in Huntington she has grown to love the city and surrounding region. She said she looks forward to helping expand business and economic development in her new community.

Shand received her Ph.D. in economics from The Ohio State University, with a specialization in international econimics and regional development.

She received her master's in economics from Miami University of Ohio and her bachelor's in economics and international affairs from James Madison University.

04/11/2014 / Charleston Gazette

  • Huntington Trail Feeds Fitness Trend

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The saying “if you build it, they will come” might have been written for a movie, but it just as easily could have been written for Huntington’s Paul Ambrose Trail for Health.

The 26-mile network of recreational trails, popularly known as the PATH, has been in development since 2007. Bethany Williams, program coordinator for the Huntington-based Rahall Transportation Institute, said the trail’s growing presence has sparked a surge in recreational cycling, walking and jogging within the city.

“There has been a change,” she said. “People seem to be thinking healthier. We’re especially seeing it downtown, where bike lanes have been installed. People are riding bikes to work and school, as well as riding them for fun and fitness.”

Such use dovetails precisely with developers’ vision for the PATH. Williams said its namesake, Dr. Paul Ambrose, championed health and wellness as a form of preventative medicine. After Ambrose was killed in the 9-11 terror attacks, his family set up a foundation to help promote Ambrose’s obesity-fighting ideals.

In 2007, Huntington-area officials began drawing up plans for a multi-use trail in and around the city. A public contest gave the trail its name in 2008, and in 2009 volunteers built the first new segment of trail in the city’s St. Cloud Commons Park. Successful fund-raising efforts led to plans for segments in the Harveytown area and along the two sections of the city’s floodwall.

So far, eight sections have been completed and are in use: a 4.8-mile stretch along the floodwall between Ritter Park and West Huntington; a 2.75-mile stretch along Memorial Boulevard between Ritter Park and Harveytown Road; a 1.7-mile stretch along the floodwall in Guyandotte; a 1.5-mile stretch through Spring Hill Cemetery; a 1.1-mile stretch that encircles Ritter Park; another 1.1-mile stretch that encircles St. Cloud Common Park; an 0.59-mile stretch along Harveytown Road; and an 0.25-mile stretch near the Ohio River in East Huntington.

Organizations began holding events on the trail in 2009.

The first was FitFest, a multi-distance run/walk and community event. Next was the Tour de PATH, a multi-distance bike ride in and along the trail network.

On April 3, the Tour de PATH will join forces with the Healthy Huntington Festival, the culmination of the Healthy Huntington 90-Day Challenge.

“The challenge gives Huntington residents a set of things to do every week that promote healthy living,” Williams explained. “The gist is to add a few things every week, and by the end of 90 days it should result in some lifestyle changes. Holding the Healthy Huntington Festival at the end of that gives people a chance to celebrate the improvements they’ve made in their health.”

The festival, headquartered at the city’s Pullman Square shopping and dining area, will kick off at 8 a.m. with a 5K run/walk. Williams said event’s vendors will focus on healthy eating and healthy habits that include exercise.

The Tour de PATH is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., also at Pullman Square. Williams said the event, which is free and open to all participants, is

“not just for adults, either. Kids are welcome, especially on the shorter ride, which is slower-paced for their little bikes.

“The rides include a 4-mile loop around downtown and Marshall [University]; a 7-mile loop that goes around Marshall and out to Ritter Park and back; and a Grand Tour of 26 miles that follows the PATH where it has been built. There will be two groups going out on the long ride, a slower-paced group and a fast-paced group.”

Williams said the Huntington Police Department’s bike patrol officers would accompany riders on the 4-mile circuit. “It’s going to be a really safe ride,” she said. “The only thing we ask is that riders wear helmets. Those who participate will be given a chance to purchase commemorative t-shirts.”

City and county officials hope eventually to link the scattered segments into a single cohesive unit. It’s possible to ride the entire trail now, but hopping from segment to segment involves riding on city streets or walking on sidewalks.

Williams believes the day will come when people throughout the city will be able to access the trail without traveling more than a few blocks.

“The plans are in place,” she said. “Now it’s a matter of securing the funding and doing the work to link the segments together.”

- See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140410/ARTICLE/140419926#sthash.9zpdFPPZ.dpuf

03/17/2014 / Herald Dispatch

  • Long Named Co-Chair of Transportation Board

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Diana Long, director of workforce development and education at the Rahall Transportation Institute in Huntington, has been appointed as co-chair of the Transportation Research Board Committee on Transportation Education and Training.

The committee works to improve communications among the academic community, private and public sectors and government agencies involved with academic training in the transportation field.

Long earned her bachelor's from University of Charleston, master's from Marshall University and her doctorate of education from West Virginia University.

03/26/2014 / Rahall Transportation Institute

  • RTI and WVDMV Partnership Creates Efficient and Accurate Technology for Commercial Driver’s License

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HUNTINGTON, WV – A partnership between the Rahall Transportation Institute (RTI) and the
West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (WVDMV) has created an efficient, accurate and
technology-based method to administer Commercial Driver’s License, CDL, testing. This
project converted a paper-based testing procedure into a fully automated system, eCDL
(electronic Commercial Driver’s License).
With funding from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the WVDMV
partnered with RTI to develop software that uses the capabilities of Global Positioning System
(GPS) to record and document verifiable skills tests. Utilizing Toughbook laptops with GPS
capabilities, RTI developed a comprehensive integrated system that complies with federally
mandated CDL testing standards while increasing fraud detection capabilities for WVDMV.
eCDL not only utilizes the GPS system during the road test, but additionally records GPS data
during the vehicle inspection, and basic skills portions to ensure the test is completed in
regulated areas.
The eCDL system is linked to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
(AAMVA) national database. DMV managers utilize the database to keep track of authorized
testing locations and personnel requirements. AAMVA's database is called the Commercial
Skills Testing Information Management System (CSTIMS), and examiners use the system to
schedule testing. When an eCDL test is complete and a valid Internet connection is made, the
data is sent to the eCDL server and then to the CSTIMS server for a full-circle testing solution.
The eCDL system has created cost efficiencies; time efficiencies and increased accuracy of test
scores. With the advanced technology of eCDL testing in place, supervisors are able to review
examiners through the technology rather than frequent and costly field checks. This has
reduced the amount of travel time and the need for a large fleet of cars. Through the technology
and GPS location tracking, CDL testing fraud has been eliminated. In 2013, 2,930 tests were
administered in West Virginia.
“The State of West Virginia has saved time and money by reduction of physical materials like
paper and vehicles. The roads are also safer, because the accuracy of testing scores is 100
percent compared to manual calculations,” Chandra Inglis-Smith, Information Systems Program
Manager at RTI, said. “We [RTI] are constantly reviewing the program [eCDL] to see how we
can improve it, whether it be superficial as to how the fields appear, changes to the exam forms
based on new requirements, or even new reporting mechanisms.”
RTI is a leader in transportation research and economic development solving transportation challenges
and addressing future needs through applied multimodal research, workforce development and advanced
technology transfer. RTI harnesses advanced transportation technology, leverages resources and
employs strategic processes to improve the economic competitiveness of the Appalachian Region and
the nation through its connections to the national and global transportation system. To learn more about
RTI, visit njrati.org.

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02/26/2014 / West Virginia Research

  • Scientist Spotlight: Dr. Andrew Nichols

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Dr. Andrew Nichols loved hunting and fishing as a child growing up in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.  His fascination with Legos and enjoyment of math and science naturally set him on a path to become an engineer.  It was at Purdue University where he was pursuing his Master’s and Doctorate Degrees in civil engineering that Nichols found out that traffic engineering was a great fit for him.

While at Purdue, Nichols worked in a traffic lab which he credits with giving him invaluable hands-on experience with traffic signals to complement what he was learning in the classroom. He developed skills that allow him to not only use software in the office to study traffic patterns and design traffic signal timings, but he also learned how to program actual traffic signal controllers that are installed at all intersections – expertise, he said, that very few practicing traffic engineers have.

The research he is doing right now as an associate professor of engineering at Marshall University is funded by the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT).  His research promotes ways to make West Virginia roads and intersections safer and more efficient. He conducts research in conjunction with the Nick J. Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute (RTI) at Marshall University – a leader in multimodal transportation and economic development in West Virginia and the Appalachian Region.

02/16/2014 / Charleston Daily Mail

  • Coordinator Hopes To Expand Huntington Trail System

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HUNTINGTON, WV — To some, Huntington is an unhealthy city on an economic downturn, but that couldn't be any more false for people like Bethany Williams, who live, work and exercise in the city.

Williams, an avid cyclist and program coordinator for the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute, a research and economic development firm headquartered in Huntington, is part of a team that manages the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, commonly known as PATH.

The expansive trail system is a pedestrian and bicycle alternative transportation network that connects vital portions of downtown Huntington, neighborhoods and Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District parks.

West Virginians outside of Huntington may not be familiar with PATH, but they could see the trail come to their city if Williams had her way.

"Alternative transportation like PATH is a big piece in the development of every progressive city," Williams said. "My goal is that RTI can keep adding on to it. I'd like to see a trail that connects cities like Charleston and Huntington."

PATH is Rahall Transportation Institute's primary trail project, but the firm is involved in the development and management of others, like the Hatfield and McCoy trails located throughout the state.

While Rahall Transportation Institute is a major sponsor of PATH, the trail is a community project spearheaded by the city of Huntington and the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District. Other sponsors include the Paul Ambrose Charitable Foundation, Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cabell County Commission, Cabell Huntington Hospital, St. Mary's Medical Center and other local nonprofits and businesses.

The city of Huntington is the primary administrator of grant funds PATH receives and is responsible for hiring designers and contractors for construction. Charles Holley, director of development and planning in Huntington, said PATH has received a total of $4.5 million in grant money since its inception.

He said the city has sought innovative ways to connect PATH trails, one being the use of cemeteries. He said people were already using them to get between trailheads, but they had to use openings in fences to get inside.

"We have to look at the city a little differently," Holley said. "What are the existing assets we can utilize?"

Holley said the city decided to open Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District-owned cemeteries for PATH users and that it intends to connect more portions of PATH in the years to come. Ultimately, Holley's goal is to see every Huntington resident to be within a half mile of the system.

Williams believes better access to PATH will create more interest among the community and stir more excitement for using alternative transportation.

"We definitely need the community behind this project," Williams said.

Perhaps the most active members of the community are Ken and Sharon Ambrose, whose son Paul has been the main inspiration and namesake for PATH. Paul Ambrose was a Huntington native, a graduate of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University, a student of former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop and a leader in the creation of the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. Once the call to action was completed, Paul Ambrose flew to a conference in Los Angeles about adolescent obesity. He flew out on American Airlines Flight 177. It never landed, and Paul Ambrose lost his life in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

While his life was taken from him, Paul Ambrose's family and community members, who were affected by his work, were inspired by his passion for preventative health care. He also received national recognition when the Surgeon General's Call to Action was published in December 2001, for which he received a posthumous Surgeon General's Medal of Honor.

Paul Ambrose's work in preventative health care brought obesity (especially in children) to the forefront of the U.S. health care agenda and initiated several healthful eating and exercise initiatives around the country.

He had a particular impact in Huntington. Ken and Sharon Ambrose believe Paul would have been most proud of the work in Huntington being done in his name and for the sake of preventative health care.

Williams said people in Huntington have become more receptive to alternative transportation and healthful lifestyles since the introduction of PATH trails. She said it has health benefits for people who use it and that it relieves traffic congestion and improves the city's air quality by reducing the number of cars on the street.

When the travel option favors alternative transportation, Williams would rather take her bicycle.

"It (using alternative transportation) is a different way of life that takes getting used to," Williams said. "But once you do, you don't ever want to go back."

Williams is part of a growing cycling community that uses the PATH system in Huntington. Williams said about 15 miles of off-road PATH trails have been completed, but they are often separated by stretches of road that can be difficult to cross, especially for pedestrians.

Rahall Transportation Institute and the city of Huntington plan to move forward with the development of PATH by connecting the current sections and creating a more cohesive alternative transportation system. Accomplishing that will not be easy, Williams said. To connect PATH trails, portions of heavily-trafficked commercial and residential properties will have to be crossed.

Both Williams and Holley remain optimistic that PATH will continue to grow and be looked to as other cities create alternative transportation infrastructure.

For West Virginians interested in learning more about PATH and using its expansive trail system, there are several events like Tour de PATH scheduled throughout the year.

Tour de PATH is an event that promotes and increases awareness of cycling as a means of travel, fitness and recreation. Proceeds from the event go to additional public awareness, map creation and development of PATH.

The next Tour de PATH has yet to be scheduled but will take place sometime this fall.