National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology

The National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Idaho is a center of excellence for transportation research, education and technology transfer in the state of Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain regions, and in the United States.

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(By Rob Patton)Riannon_Heighes College of Engineering University of Idaho

For University of Idaho civil engineering graduate Riannon Heighes

the path less traveled has always presented unique opportunities to make a difference. Riannon recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and has decided to pursue her master’s degree in civil engineering with a focus on transportation research. “I want to make a real-world difference. As an undergraduate, UI civil engineering classes were taught by professors with working experience that they brought to the classroom,” she says. “They encouraged us to not just do engineering problems out of a book, although there was a lot of that, too. They inspired me to apply engineering to real-world problems. That’s one of the reasons I’m back for my master’s.” 

Originally from southern California, when Riannon graduated from high school her parents moved to Lewiston, Idaho, but she chose to stay behind to begin a career in real estate. While it was a lucrative path, she knew that she wanted to do more. Riannon, always knew she wanted to make a positive impact on the environment, and with an aptitude for math, she believed she could make that “real” impact through engineering. She enrolled in civil engineering at Walla Walla Community College and after earning her associate’s degree transferred to the University of Idaho. 

As an undergraduate, Riannon’s desire to make a difference led her to be involved with the UI student chapter of Engineers Without Borders where she became the project leader of an initiative to design potable water wells in the Bolivian village of Chiwirapi. After spending four years of preliminary work, once in Bolivia the UI-EWB team were faced with non-engineering challenges that halted their progress. “After years of planning, choosing the community, writing hundreds of pages of paperwork, umpteen hours of meetings, fundraisers, design process and all of the research, we believed we were going to build drinking wells, but at the zero hour the community effectively said that wasn’t what they wanted. It would have been easy to be angry and discouraged. But I found myself on a different continent, in a third-world country with a decision to make ... the situation required patience, and a lot of it, and it came to a point where patience ran out and we had to leave.” In the end Riannon and the team left Chiwirapi without building the drinking wells but came away from the experience with a better understanding of how engineering solutions are intricately linked to social, political, economic and communication challenges.

After returning from Bolivia Riannon began work with U-Idaho’s National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology (NIATT), Transportation for Livability by Integrating Vehicles and the Environment or TranLIVE University Transportation Center. TranLIVE is focused on research and development of technologies to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation system. She is working on a project involving distracted driving among young drivers. “The goal of the research,” she says, “is to examine distractions among teenage drivers, in particular what tasks they consider to be distracting and compare that to their levels of engagement with these tasks while driving. Kids are growing up with phones in their hands, and they live in a world where everyone is using mobile devices in their cars, I think it is important to have policies in place to decrease the number of accidents and fatalities. Our research will hopefully provide data to help policy-makers make better decisions.” 

Riannon has been involved with TranLIVE UTC research in the past working to conduct emissions. Last summer Riannon collected over 100 miles of emissions data using a five-gas analyzer plugged into the tailpipe of her 1997 Lexus ES300. “The experience made it clear to me that I was working in the right field. I know that the work I do is going to have an impact. Great or small, it’s going to result in changes in the way we do things.” Riannon’s emissions work was recognized by the Coral Sales Company, who presented her the Douglas P. Daniels Scholarship award, given to outstanding transportation engineering students in the Pacific Northwest. 

More recently, Riannon received a first-place award for an essay written for the National Conference on Rural Public and Intercity Transportation. In the paper, “A Future of Transformation for Public Transit in Rural Communities,” she discusses the important role that public transportation has in ensuring personal mobility, improving the quality of life of riders by providing a safe and economical form of transportation, and generally benefiting society by reducing pollution and traffic congestion. She argues that in the future in order for public transportation in rural communities to be successful there must be a transformation in general perceptions about what it means to use public transportation.


 In Memoriam: Michael Dixon 












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“Measures to Alleviate Congestion at Rural Intersections”

Case Study at State Highway 55 / Banks-Lowman Highway Offers ITD Efficient Congestion Solutions  (By Heloise Abtahi)

There aren’t many drivers today who can say they’ve never had to endure holiday traffic. Cars can be backed up for miles, cutting heavily into precious holiday time. This type of congestion is especially noticeable at normally quiet rural intersections, which can go from seeing very little regular traffic to seeing thousands of cars around holidays like Memorial Day weekend or the Fourth of July. In an effort to help alleviate this congestion, Dr. Ahmed Abdel-Rahim, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Interim Director of NIATT, and NIATT Research Assistant Chris Bacon conducted a case study focused on one intersection in particular: State Highway 55 and Banks-Lowman Highway. This area was identified by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) as experiencing typically low traffic volumes with a spike around holidays. In order to mitigate the problems drivers were experiencing at this and many other rural intersections around Idaho, Dr. Abdel-Rahim and Mr. Bacon worked to find the best way to meet not only the particular needs of the SH-55/Banks-Lowman Highway intersection, but also to discover the most efficient methods for limiting strain on all types of rural intersections during holiday periods.

SH-55/Banks-Lowman Highway IntersectionUsing data from automatic traffic counters installed by ITD in 2006, the research team was able to establish a base count for the average daily traffic (ADT) for the peak season from past years. To collect the traffic data for 2014, the project team worked with ITD to get an accurate ADT through the use of both automatic traffic counters and cameras installed at the intersection. The result was an excellent and very thorough data set that according to Dr. Abdel-Rahim, makes the study’s findings much more universally applicable. “Because of the extensive data collection, we really were able to totally understand the problem and offer a solution.” Not only were the objectives of the project (collecting traffic data and offering a potential solution for peak congestion at the SH-55/Banks-Lowman Highway intersection) successfully achieved, other rural intersections will benefit from the case study. Though the SH-55/Banks-Lowman Highway intersection has somewhat unique geographical features, Dr. Abdel-Rahim believes that the study will be a great help in alleviating heavy congestion during these holiday periods at many types of rural intersections.

Chris Bacon worked as a research assistant for this project, helping to collect and analyze the data. From a student’s perspective, he says, this was an excellent opportunity to gain truly practical experience of what he’s learned in the classroom and to understand the value of using the actual technology. Working with ITD allowed him to get experience with their automatic traffic counters and to understand how to assemble a thorough and useful data set. Chris even went so far as to note that not only was the volume of traffic increasing during these peak periods—the types of vehicles and the people driving them were changing as well. SH-55/Banks-Lowman intersectionMany of these vehicles might not normally be classified as large or oversized, but in the hands of drivers who might be unpracticed in driving with a trailer and unfamiliar with the area, a truck with a small trailer can prove to be a rather large obstacle. It is this careful attention to detail that makes this study so useful not only to the SH-55/Banks-Lowman intersection, but also to rural intersections throughout Idaho and, on a larger scale, the country. After all, this congestion is something that effects not only holiday-makers in these areas, but also those who live and work there. This case study was able to define and provide a solution for an identified problem, and in doing so, it will offer very real results.



Civil Engineering students working with NIATT, Christopher Bacon, Riannon Heighes, and Brett Seely have won paper competitions administered by the National Conference on Rural Public and Intercity Bus Transportation. Each student will receive a cash prize and travel funds to attend the conference on October 26-29, 2014 in Monterey, California. This year’s conference theme is “Setting Our Course for the Future”. Students were asked to envision four alternative perspectives for our transportation future: a vision of continued growth, one of disciplined or constrained growth, a future of decline and collapse, or one of transformation. Understanding these four alternative perspectives is important as many believe that the way we envision our future actually shapes the future. Christopher participated in the graduate student research paper competition. His paper, entitled “Real-Time Information Projecting Towards the Future,” received second place honors. Riannon and Brett competed in the undergraduate student essay competition, finishing in first place and second place, respectively. Congratulations Christopher, Riannon, and Brett! We know that you will represent the University of Idaho, the Department of Civil Engineering, and NIATT well.



Naresh PachauriNaresh Pachauri (MSBAE ’08, MSc Chemistry ’11) worked with Dr. Brian He and Dr. Jon Van Gerpen as a graduate research assistant focusing on continuous biodiesel production using reactive distillation.  Naresh said, "The process cut down the costs and reaction times significantly." Prior to coming to Idaho, Naresh received a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering at NIT in India.

He was particularly fascinated with Idaho's winters.  His favorite past time was to learn & gossip with his mentor and friend, Dr. Joseph Thompson. He is thankful for the opportunity to do research and the financial support for his graduate studies from NIATT.  

He has worked in variety of biodiesel plants spread across the nation (including 2,5,10,20,50 & 100+ MGY capacities). He has been with his current company for the past two years.



Zane SappZane Sapp (BSEE ’08, MSEE 2010) has been working for Campbell Company in Boise, Idaho since graduating from the University of Idaho. He started working with NIATT in 2008 with Dr. Richard Wall. The work he did focused on board level troubleshooting on the Advanced Accessible Pedestrian System (AAPS). They now sell the AAPS as a product at Campbell. "This was truly an amazing experience to bring a product from a thought to fruition. I had all the tools from my undergrad experience that I could then apply at the graduate level. I was very fortunate to have NIATT to provide this great experience," said Sapp. He also had an internship with Campbell in summer of '09 and then was hired permanently by the company the next year.

Sapp said, "Since employment we have built a fine engineering team here a Campbell. We continue to design and build new products for the traffic industry. We also continually improve our products by visiting field sites and learning what the customers would like to see on the street. I’d like to thank NIATT and Dr. Wall for making this all possible."

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National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology

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