13 miles along Utah’s Interstate 80 (I-80) is one of the most dangerous road spans for animals in the state. 122 mule deer, 13 moose, four elk, and three mountain lions died in the last two years. So now the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is proposing a $5 million bridge over I-80 that will provide wildlife a safe transit zone.
Locals from Park City, Utah grew concerned over the high number of animal deaths on the nearby freeway, and in 2015 started the nonprofit Save People, Save Wildlife. Their first goal? Wildlife fencing. They raised around $50,000, and UDOT decided to match those funds. The department put in one mile of fencing on westbound I-80 in the fall of 2016.
But the fences have only done so much to prevent wildlife deaths. The number of crashes in the area near the fencing fell but officials discovered many animals simply walked alongside the fence until it ended, and then tried to cross. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist Matt Howard said the result was that collisions happened further down the road.
Save People, Save Wildlife also calls for wildlife bridges, and it seems the Utah government is listening. At a recent public meeting officials announced plans to build the $5 million overpass. The design isn’t official yet, but the bridge could be 45 feet wide and 345 feet long, crossing I-80 west of the Parleys Summit interchange. Up for debate is whether vegetation should cover the bridge or whether it should be open so animals can see through to the other side. Construction could begin in 2018.
UDOT project manager John Montoya told The Salt Lake Tribune, “The biggest thing that matters to us is to build a bridge that works, that the larger animals will use.” He said it could take a few years, and animals could at first congregate near fences, but then they’ll adapt and start traveling to the bridge.
Images via the Utah Department of Transportation