Latest News

Senator Tester Backs Train Safety Legislation

Date: December 16, 2020

US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) joined recently with other federal lawmakers to introduce two bills in a bipartisan effort that he said are aimed at improving train safety in eastern Montana and other rural communities, according to the Great Falls Tribune.

On November 18, he introduced the “Right Track Act” along with Republic Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska. Tester, Fischer and Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, also introduced a bill that would exam more than 200,000 crossings nationwide.

Sen. Jon Tester

Tester said Congress needs better information on these blocked crossings to make highways safer and more efficient.

Tester and Fischer said their earlier bill, “Right Track Act,” requires the Federal Rail and the Federal Highway administrations make recommendations on improving rail safety in rural areas, increase public outreach on grade crossing safety, and target resources for grade crossing safety in rural areas.

Read more.


MSU Marks Milestones for Female Engineering Enrollment, Faculty

Date: December 16, 2020

For nearly a decade, Christine Foreman has advocated for female students in a field where men far outnumber them. So it felt like a personal victory, she said, when the number of women majoring in engineering and computer science at Montana State University recently hit an all-time high, according to a MSU News report.

Fall semester saw female student enrollment in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering reach 20% of the total of 3,650 students. Adding to the milestone, Foreman, who directs MSU’s Women in Engineering program, became the fourth woman ever in the college to earn the top academic rank of professor.

“I’m thrilled with the progress we’ve made,” said Foreman, who also serves as the college’s associate dean for student success. “I love being able to provide opportunities for young women and watch them exceed their own expectations.”

Foreman took over as director of the Women in Engineering program in 2012, when women accounted for only 16% of students in the college. That year was also when Brett Gunnink became the college’s dean and made recruiting female students a top priority. The percentage of female students in the college has steadily climbed since. “Christine’s leadership, along with that of our other female faculty, has been key to promoting a culture in which women can achieve what they want to achieve,” he said.

Read more.


Where Does Montana Rank on Highway Performance?

Date: December 16, 2020

Montana ranks 10th in the nation in highway performance and cost-effectiveness, according to the Annual Highway Report by the Reason Foundation. This is a two-spot decline from the previous report, where Montana ranked 8th overall.

In safety and performance categories, Montana ranks 42nd in overall fatality rate, 28th in structurally deficient bridges, 14th in traffic congestion, 11th in urban interstate pavement condition, and 24th in rural interstate pavement condition. On spending, Montana ranks 13th in total spending per mile and 18th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

“To improve in the rankings, Montana needs to reduce its fatality rate. The state is in the bottom 15 for overall and rural fatality rates. Compared to neighboring states, the report finds Montana’s overall highway performance is better than South Dakota (11th) and Washington (45th), but worse than North Dakota (ranks 1st),” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Montana is doing better than some comparable states like Wyoming (ranks 36th), but worse than others like Idaho (ranks 5th).”

The foundation’s Annual Highway Report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled highways in 13 categories, including pavement condition, traffic congestion, structurally deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, and spending (capital, maintenance, administrative, overall) per mile.

Access the full report.


Schools Work to Comply with State Drinking Water Lead Reduction Rules

Date: December 16, 2020

Children spend a lot of time at school, and a statewide rule is aimed at minimizing their lead exposure while they are there.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services rolled out the lead reduction in school drinking water rule at the beginning of 2020—its goal is simple, but complying with it poses challenges, according to KTVH news report.

The lead reduction in school drinking water rule — designed with help from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Office of Public Instruction—states all schools under the OPI must test water throughout their facilities for lead levels.

“The schools are required to sample all their drinking water fountains, all kitchen fixtures that are used for either food preparation or drinking, as well as all their fixtures that have the potential to be used for drinking water,” DEQ lead reduction in school drinking water rule manager Greg Montgomery said.

Read more.


NSPE Career Center

Date: December 16, 2020

NSPE’s Job Board is your one-stop resource for professional engineering employment. Whether you are on the hunt for your next career move or looking for today’s top engineering leaders and talent, you will find it here.

NSPE provides the tools PEs need to keep current in the profession and advance their careers.

Featured Job
Assistant Professor Civil Engineering (Construction)
Butte, MT

Find more job openings or reach the right employees on the NSPE Job Board.

Montana Society Meeting Recap

Date: November 18, 2020

The Montana Society of Engineers held their annual General Membership and Board Meeting on Wednesday, November 4, 2020. President Jean Riley, P.E., directed the Zoom meeting. It was noted that the annual Joint Engineers Conference in November had been cancelled and that all speaker proposals have been moved to the 2021 JEC.

MATHCOUNTS 2020–21
MATHCOUNTS Chairman Cory Haisak, P.E., reported that all chapter and state competitions have been moved online for the 2020–21 season. The MATHCOUNTS national competition is still scheduled to be held as a live event next year.

Currently, we have about two-thirds of the registrations we had last year, but registration deadlines have all been extended. We may see an additional increase, even though school registrations are down. The number of participating students is slightly higher because of the distance learning student registration option. Fundraising efforts will continue this year, but due to the online format there should be a decrease in expenses.

PE Hall of Fame Induction—William Wenzel
Dan McCauley, P.E., Chairman of the PE Hall of Fame Committee, reported that there was a small gathering planned for November 30 to present the award to William Wenzel’s family, however due to the spike in virus cases, this may be postponed until the 2021 JEC. If that’s the case the plaque will be hung at Montana State University-Bozeman and given to the family with a presentation at the 2021 JEC.

NSPE Regional and National Report
Georgia Brensdal, P.E., reported on Western Pacific Region personnel changes at the regional level. WPR meetings have continued in a virtual format.

Mike Keene, P.E., the NSPE House of Delegates representative for Montana, reported that because of the many challenges we have faced as a nation and the impact of those challenges, NSPE leadership and staff have been revisiting the strategic plan. The NSPE mission remains the same: “To foster licensed professional engineers in service to society.” An ongoing priority is the search for NSPE’s new Executive director and CEO. The goal is to identify someone by mid- to late-November with a possible start date in the beginning of the new year.

NSPE’s newest staff member is Rebecca Bowman, Esq., P.E. She began serving as Senior Director, Ethics and Professional Practice on November 2. Bowman replaces Arthur Schwartz, Esq., who recently retired after 38 years.

In preparation for the 117th US Congress, NSPE is planning an outreach effort to introduce or reintroduce the Society to all 535 members of Congress. The message will be simple: “This is who we are, these are the issues we care about, and we look forward to working with you.” The outreach is a joint effort of some of NSPE’s full-service state societies and NSPE headquarters.

Please visit the NSPE website for other industry and society news, and educational opportunities. Also, more details relating to this HOD report will be provided in the next issue of the MSE newsletter.

Legislative Update
MSE Executive Director Michele Munson reached out to Daryl and Jennifer James, our lobbyists, for a legislative update. President Jean Riley reported that she is watching some of the proposed bills slated for the 2021 Legislature. One bill to especially keep an eye on involves proposed dissolution of licensing boards. The next MSE board meeting is scheduled for January 6, 2021 at 12 p.m. via a conference call.

Special Montana Note: Mike Keene, P.E., has one year left on his term as HOD representative. Anyone interested in being considered for the HOD seat can contact the Montana Society of Engineers Board, or you are welcome to contact Mike Keene directly (mikekeenpe@gmail.com).


In Response to Pandemic, NCEES Schedules Regional Testing for PE Civil Exam

Date: November 18, 2020

To accommodate as many pencil-and-paper examinees as safely as possible, NCEES has added a regional exam administration on January 26, 2021, for PE Civil examinees only.

Registration for the regional PE Civil exam administration opened on November 1, 2020, and closes on December 14, 2020, at 3:00 p.m. EST. The exam will be administered in the following cities: Phoenix, AZ; Pomona, CA; Denver, CO; Groton, CT; Orlando, FL; Topeka, KS; Louisville, KY; Minneapolis, MN; Raleigh, NC; Las Vegas, NV; Cleveland, OH; Salem, OR; Houston, TX; Salt Lake City, UT; and Seattle, WA.

Additional cities may be added. Visit the NCEES website for details.


Passenger Rail Grows to 10 Counties

Date: November 18, 2020

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority grew to 10 Montana counties in a growing effort to restore Amtrak service to the state’s southern tier, according to a Missoula Current report.

While passenger rail service has contracted nationally during the pandemic, Sen. Jon Tester said it enjoys bipartisan support in the US Senate and could be eyed for investment down the road with the aid of an infrastructure bill.

“We do have some bipartisan support for rail in the Senate to continue to put pressure on Amtrak after the election, regardless of the outcome, to make sure we maintain rail service,” Tester told Missoula County commissioners. “We’ve got to get it to a point to get a commitment after the pandemic.”

Missoula County adopted a draft resolution to create the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority in early June and sent it out to the nearly two-dozen counties poised along the old North Coast Hiawatha Route in southern Montana.

Prairie County became the 10th county to adopt the resolution. The effort also has the backing of the Rail Passengers Association and Transportation for America. Sen. Steve Daines has expressed support for a southern route as well, as have cities in surrounding states.

Read more.


Expanding STEM Learning Across the State

Date: November 18, 2020

A new report from Montana State University’s Science Math Resource Center and the Montana Afterschool Alliance offers suggestions for expanding STEM learning across the state.

The report—which also includes an overview of the state of science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning in Montana—is based on ideas shared at a STEM Summit held at MSU in the summer of 2019. The statewide summit included 165 representatives from education, industry, government and nonprofit organizations discussing how to STEM learning in Montana.

Among other findings, the 16-page report notes that communication, collaboration and connections between industry and education are top priorities. In addition, the report includes an update on actions taken in the months following last summer’s event and suggestions for next steps.

Read more.


Montana Society to Host Virtual Meeting

Date: October 28, 2020

The Montana Society of Engineers will host a General Membership Meeting on Wednesday, November 4 via Zoom. Topics of discussion will include MATHCOUNTS, the Joint Engineers Conference, the NSPE House of Delegates meeting, and awards.

Due to COVID-19, the annual Joint Engineers Conference was canceled this year and will resume November 3-5, 2021 in Helena, Montana.

Please contact NSPE House of Delegates Representative Mike Keene, P.E. for information about attending the meeting.


MT Sells Bonds to Support Infrastructure Projects

Date: October 28, 2020

Governor Steve Bullock announced on September 30 that the state sold $52.2 million in bonds to continue moving forward with infrastructure projects across the state and refinanced $32.4 million in bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates and save taxpayer dollars.

“By selling bonds today we are moving forward with critical projects across the state and supporting the Montana economy by continuing to put shovels to dirt and facilitate good-paying jobs,” Bullock stated in a news release. “Additionally, we are ensuring we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars by refinancing existing bonds to take advantage of low interest rates and save the state millions of dollars over the long term.”

The Board of Examiners executed the Bond Purchase Agreement, finalizing $52.2 million in bond issuance for infrastructure projects. The bonds sold will continue financing projects such as Romney Hall, expansion of the Great Falls College MSU Dental Hygiene Clinic, and the Montana Heritage Center. Interest rates for the bond issuances were historically low and ranged between .7% to 1.8%. The board also approved refinancing $32.4 million in trust land bonds as well as water pollution control bonds. Refinancing will save the state $7 million.

The Montana Legislature passed and Governor Bullock signed legislation in 2019 to fund sewer, water, bridges, buildings and other public works projects. It is the first time the Legislature has agreed to a comprehensive statewide bond package in over a decade.


Butte Named as Top STEM City

Date: October 28, 2020

Butte, Montana was recognized as a  2020 Top STEM City for being a community showcasing exceptional dedication to science, technology, engineering, and math education and careers.

The data science team at Insurify (an insurance quotes comparison site) analyzed both proprietary and publicly-accessible data to determine the top STEM city in each state. The team identified cities with the highest proportion of residents in STEM-based careers and compiled data from Niche on the colleges and graduate schools with the best programs in STEM, as well as the best cities for women in tech.

Read more.


MSU Receives Funding to Study Faster COVID Testing

Date: October 28, 2020

Montana State University has received state funding from the governor to research a potentially faster and cheaper method of testing for the COVID-19 virus.

The $776,000 grant will fund the university’s research on a type of COVID-19 test that could improve the access to and speed of testing, according to a Bozeman Daily Chronicle article published on October 17.

The method, called loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or LAMP testing, relies on saliva as opposed to the commonly used nasal swab test. “There’s a lot of research exploring LAMP right now because of its speed,” said Connie Chang, an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering. Chang is leading the project and working alongside 12 MSU faculty members.

LAMP testing analyzes saliva samples in around 30 minutes and delivers results by changing the sample color to yellow if it’s positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“With the technology that we’re developing, we think we can trim the result time even more. It’s an exciting developing technology for point-of-care testing, and that’s why a lot of people are working on it right now,” Chang said.

Read more.


NSPE Career Center

Date: October 28, 2020

NSPE’s Job Board is your one-stop resource for professional engineering employment. Whether you are on the hunt for your next career move or looking for today’s top engineering leaders and talent, you will find it here.

NSPE provides the tools PEs need to keep current in the profession and advance their careers.

Featured Job
Positive Train Control Project Manager
Missoula, MT

Find more job openings or reach the right employees on the NSPE Job Board.

NTSB Report and NSPE's Action on this Issue

Date: October 5, 2018

Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent letters to the governors of 31 states named in its final report on the Merrimack Valley gas pipeline explosions, including Montana. The letter requests an end to the engineering license exemption for gas pipeline operators in these states, and asks for governors to provide an update to the NTSB with in 90 days.

When the NTSB began its investigation of the Merrimack Valley gas pipeline explosions, investigative staff reached out to NSPE seeking information about licensing exemptions. Through a series of conversations and emails, NSPE shared report data, information on the licensing process and requirements, and its Position Statement on licensing exemptions. Consequently, NSPE was successful in getting the NTSB to adopt a policy of addressing and eliminating engineering license exemptions within the gas pipeline industry.

NSPE’s national staff continues to be in conversation with NTSB staff, and will continue to share updates as they happen. We are happy to support state efforts at eliminating this exemption.

Read the full report from NTSB.

NTSB Report and Recommendations

Pipeline explosionA BURNED-OUT MASSACHUSETTS HOME AFTER THE GAS EXPLOSIONS
CREDIT: NTSB

NTSB has released an abstract of its forthcoming final report on the fatal Merrimack Valley pipeline explosion from September of last year. Final revisions are being made to the report, but in the report’s synopsis/executive summary, NTSB states that “requiring a licensed professional engineer to stamp plans would illustrate that the plans had been approved by an accredited professional with the requisite skills, knowledge, and experience to provide a comprehensive review.” Acknowledging the importance of the role of the PE in preventing an event like this from occurring, NTSB recommends the elimination of the licensing exemption on natural gas pipeline projects in the 31 states that have the exemption in place, including the state of Montana.

Read the synopsis of the report.