Can you design an I-70 bridge for wildlife?
DENVER – An international competition is being launched to come up with new ideas for wildlife crossings over interstate highways, with the Colorado mountains as a focal point.
West Vail Pass along Interstate 70 was chosen as the site for the competition initiated by the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University and the Woodcock Foundation in New York. The hope is to come up with innovative ways to build wildlife crossings that are less expensive and better looking than the typical concrete bridge with soil planted on it, Rob Ament of the transportation institute said recently.
Regional officials and conservation groups are working on protecting wildlife migration routes and preventing collisions between vehicles and wildlife. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter have agreed to identify and protect wildlife migration corridors between the two states.
“Wildlife is one of the most important resources in the West. It is part of our heritage, and its protection should be part of our legacy,” said Ritter.
The Western Governors’ Association has recommended installing wildlife crossings as part of its Wildlife Corridors Initiative.
In Colorado, conservationists and state officials are trying to prevent traffic collisions with wildlife by using electronic signs to warn motorists of animals and reporting animal sightings on a website.
“Ensuring wildlife can safely cross roads and highways is crucial to keeping wildlife populations healthy into the future,” said Caitlin Balch-Burnett of Defenders of Wildlife. “They are part of the natural heritage and an important draw for tourism dollars.”
Ament, project manager of the North American Wildlife Crossing Structure Design Competition, said designs will be solicited over the next several months and a jury of leaders in design and engineering will be formed. He said he expects more than 100 teams from around the world to participate.
The goal is an affordable design that can be built in many different areas, Ament said.
Wildlife groups would like to see a crossing built on Vail Pass.
“Anyone who has driven over Vail Pass can see it as an important connection between the mountain habitats on either side,” Balch-Burnett said.
For the state highway department, the increase in mountain traffic is a good reason to look at wildlife bridges.
“Identifying new options for mitigating wildlife-vehicle collisions is particularly critical in Colorado’s High Country, especially as traffic increases on our state highways,” CDOT Region 3 Transportation Director Weldon Allen said. “Safety is one of the core values that all stakeholders in the I-70 Mountain Corridor study agree need to be factored in to every effort and project. An innovative design for an I-70 wildlife crossing will give CDOT and its regional planning partners another alternative as we work together to plan and implement safety measures along this corridor.”
The project also has support from U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who represents the mountain areas in the second Congressional district.
“Wildlife corridors are increasingly essential as our transportation system continues to grow and human and wildlife domains overlap. Across the nation accidents involving wildlife are on the rise and animal populations are increasingly impacted. The ARC competition will improve traveler safety and environmental sustainability by making creative solutions more affordable and more easily adopted nationwide. West Vail Pass is ideally suited to evaluating this problem and I’m eager to see the innovative solutions that it produces,” Polis said.
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