Wyoming To Build $10M Wildlife Highway Crossings

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(Balmori Associates rendering of possible wildlife crossing)

(Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) - Wyoming is spending $9.7 million dollars to create a series of wildlife underpasses and overpasses to help pronghorn antelope cross the road.

Antelope that migrate through the Gros Ventre Mountains to and from Grand Teton National Park in western Wyoming face several highway crossings. This wildlife crossing project has been dubbed "Path of the Pronghorn."

Wyoming Department of Transportation Engineer John Eddins of Rock Springs says the main reason for the new wildlife crossings is for safety. He says on average 100 big game animals are hit on the roadway each year. Eddins says there is cost for these collisions.

"Take the $10,000 damage per property damage crash," he says "And the value of a deer around $3,000 based on our Wyoming Game and Fish restitution value, multiply that by 100 carcases and 20 or 30 property damage crashes and run that out over 20 years and that’s a significant amount of money."

So he says the $9.7 million spent on mitigation will quickly be recouped by the state. Although Eddins admits this expenditure means other Wyoming highway projects won't be funded. Still he says Wyoming transportation officials see the benefits of a wildlife bypass and have made this project a priority. Wyoming's regular allocation of federal highway dollars will pay for 90 percent of this project, the rest will be matched by the state of Wyoming.

Rob Ament is the road ecology project manager for the Western Transportation Institute in Bozeman, Montana. He says Wyoming's decision to construct a wildlife overpass during a time of tight state budgets is notable since they are expensive and rare in North America.

"So with Wyoming going with two underpasses, they're taking the lead in the west,"  Ament says.

Ament says WTI has studied the cost effectiveness of wildlife bypasses. He says while the projects may sound expensive they actually have demonstrated that they are cost effective because they reduce so many wildlife-vehicle collisions.

The Wyoming project follows the success of another set of underpasses that were built along a stretch of Highway 30 from Kemmerer to Cokeville. An estimated 30,000 animals have used the series of six underpasses since December 2009. That project was funded entirely by an appropriation from the Wyoming Legislature.

WTI, meanwhile, is helping run an international competition seeking designs for a new generation of wildlife crossings. The winner is to be announced in January 2011 at a national transportation conference in Washington, D.C.

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