Animal deaths on Interstate 80 near Parleys Summit have gotten so out of control that the state of Utah is allocating $5 million to build a wildlife overpass so animals can safely cross the stretch of highway.
Over a thirteen mile stretch between Kimball Junction and Lambs Canyon, cars killed 122 mule deer, 13 moose, 4 elk, and 3 mountain lions in just the past two years. The solution to the problem? According to the Utah Department of Transportation – an animal overpass.
Of course, this isn’t just to save animals. It’s intended to save money and human lives as well. Striking large animals with your vehicle at interstate speeds can be deadly.
In addition to the overpass, $50,000 has been raised to build more fencing along the interstate, preventing animals from crossing. These fences work, but only to a degree. Because the fences can’t stretch the entire interstate, it just pushes them further down the road where they then attempt their crossing.
The design for the overpass is not finalized, but UDOT officials are hoping that fences can corral the animals to the overpasses where they can safely cross.
The overpass is set to be built near the summit of the pass. It’s the place where the most collisions tend to occur. An underpass was briefly considered but officials doubted an Elk’s willingness to walk 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, a UDOT project manager.
Over the past few years, some higher profile incidents have taken place along this stretch of interstate that have lead locals to demand swift action. Earlier this year, I-80 was closed for almost an hour because 12 elk had wandered into the median and stayed there.
In 2001, a helicopter had to be called in to move a moose off the freeway.
It may take a few years, but research conducted on other animal overpasses suggests that, after a few years, animals simply learn that they’re the easiest way to cross a dangerous road and opt to use the overpasses instead.