Environmental Resilience Institute Externship Grant Reflection: Virginia Department of Transportation’s Research Council (VTRC)

Faria Tuz Zahura 

Externship Location: Virginia Department of Transportation’s Research Council (VTRC)

My name is Faria Tuz Zahura and I am a third-year Ph.D. student in Civil and Environmental Engineering. This January I got the chance to do a week-long externship at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Research Council (VTRC). VTRC conducts all the research at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Although one week is a very short time, I learned a lot and had an extraordinary experience working with my mentor.

I primarily worked on one project that aims to improve wildlife crossing in Virginia. Virginia is one of the top 10 states with the highest number of deer-vehicle collisions (DVC). These collisions pose a threat to the safety of drivers and wildlife. In addition, removing the carcasses from the streets is expensive. VDOT has added fences with a length of 1-mile at two sites on I-64 in order to help deer and other wild animals to use underpass instead of crossing the street. Data was collected for the pre-fencing and post-fencing period to analyze the effects of fencing on animal crossing.

My job was to analyze the pre-fencing and post-fencing carcass removal data to assess the improvement in wildlife crossing due to fencing. I created maps using ArcMap along I-64 showing the average yearly deer carcass before and after the fencing was constructed at every 0.1 miles. The decrease in the average number of yearly carcass within the fencing zone was evident from the map at both of the sites. Performing a t-test on the yearly number of carcasses during both periods showed a significant decrease in the number of carcasses at fencing locations. Outside the fencing locations, there were different responses depending on the fence end treatment. There were three types of fence ends: 1. the end tied to VDOT right of way 2. open-ended and 3. the end tied to an underpass. For types 1 and 3 there was a decrease in the number of carcasses during the after fencing period, which was not significant and very close to being significant, respectively. For type 2, there was an increase in the number of carcasses, although not significant.

Another project that I briefly worked on involved identifying the sources of zinc and potential solutions to reduce zinc concentration in discharged water from bridges and tunnels. VDOT wants to identify the sources of zinc from Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and Hampton Road Bridge and take steps to minimize the concentration of zinc that goes into the water from these bridges. My job was to do some literature review on similar studies done in other places.

The one-week externship had been a great learning experience for me. I enjoyed working at VTRC so much. Thanks, Environmental Resilience Institute for giving me this opportunity.