Similar bridges have reduced deaths by 80 percent.
It’s an idea that has become a reality in other countries, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and France, and now Utah is planning their first-ever wildlife bridge to reduce the fatalities that occur on the highway. It all started back in 2015, when locals from Park City, Utah started a non-profit called Save People, Save Wildlife after they became concerned over the high number of animal deaths on a stretch of the I-80. Locals became distraught specifically after two moose calves were killed on an on-ramp, which garnered attention and helped to raise funding.
Save People, Save Wildlife was able to raise more than $50,000 that was meant to go towards fencing that would be put up between Lambs Canyon and Kimball Junction — a 13-mile stretch on I-80— which was matched by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). The fencing was erected in 2016 and, while it did reduce the number of collisions, officials realized that many animals were simply walking along the fence until it ended and then crossing at that point, pushing the deaths to further down the road.
That stretch of highway is the ultimate site for the deaths of 122 mule deer, 13 moose, 4 elk and 3 mountain lions in the past two years, according to UDOT.
A few high-profiles deaths and injuries have occurred as a result of these collisions with wildlife, though drivers overall tend to not sustain any worrisome physical injuries. However, the high number of collisions is impacting wildlife greatly and the state of Utah is choosing not to look the other way. After the fencing proved to be somewhat successful, UDOT decided to go ahead with another proposed plan from Save People, Save Wildlife to reduce the deaths: a wildlife bridge.
The bridge is estimated to cost $5 million and, although the design hasn’t been finalized, should be 45 feet high and 345 feet long. Fencing will expand from both sides to encourage wildlife to head towards the bridge to cross, essentially funneling them onto the overpass. Officials have not yet decided if it should be filled with vegetation to make it appear natural or remain barren so that wildlife can easily see the other side. An underpass were considered initially, but was scrapped when officials realized that bigger animals were unlikely to cross through a dark, 400-foot tunnel.
“The biggest thing that matters to us is to build a bridge that works, that the larger animals will use,” said John Montoya, UDOT project manager.
Cameras will be placed on both sides to study how animals use the bridge and track progress and the entire bridge is set to be built starting sometime in 2018. Though it will take several years to build and several years for animals to adapt to the bridge, biologists say that eventually the animals will start traveling directly to the bridge rather than trying to cross in the normal manner.
“I’m really pleased with UDOT,” said Ralph Hottinger, president of Save People, Save Wildlife. “They’ve stepped forward. We see UDOT as our partners.”