To prevent dangerous highway accidents and protect animals, Congress has included hundreds of millions of dollars in a bipartisan Infrastructure Act for projects to help wildlife cross highways safely. The Federal Highway Administration expects to issue a notice of a funding opportunity in early 2023 for the pilot program. But in the meantime, there are steps state and local officials can take to improve their chances of winning the new grant dollars, says one expert Fifty Road.
Gazelle, it’s a big problem
Every year on the roads of the United States, hundreds of thousands of animals are hit by cars. believer Estimated state farm Earlier this year, drivers nationwide collided with more than two million animals between July 2020 and June 2021. Between the 1970s and 2020, collisions between vehicles and animals resulted in anywhere from about 80 to about 220 human deaths annually, According to the statistics Compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute. Shipwrecks caused billions of dollars in property damage and other expenses as well.
Meanwhile, animal deaths are often underestimated because people don’t always report when they run over a small mammal or amphibian, notes Anna Wern, director of government affairs at Great Landscape Conservation Center.
The Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act includes $350 million to help improve options for animals to traverse busy roads. The funds will be distributed over five years. This is the first time projects to reduce wildlife collisions and harvest road-cut habitat have had an earmarked amount of funding, according to Wern. It’s an important development, as wildlife crossing projects typically compete with other infrastructure priorities for money.
Under the new program, the Federal Highway Administration will look for projects that more effectively reduce motorist and wildlife collisions and that provide a “better connection to habitat,” according to a spokesperson for the agency.
Although the scholarship application process is not yet open, there are still plenty of state and local agencies that can take a lead if they are interested in funding.
Having data on collision rates in a particular area will, of course, help make the case for wildlife crossing.
When deciding whether society would benefit from one, people will naturally look at the roads where there are a large number of collisions. But there are other factors to consider.
Sometimes a low number of collisions indicates a great need to cross as well. This is because busy roads can have a “barrier effect” as animals perceive when it is too dangerous to even attempt to cross, Warren explained in a recent interview. When animals are unable to migrate to new areas, this can lead to inbreeding, difficulties finding food, and other problems.
In addition to assessing the need for the crossing, officials must also consider the practicality of the location they are intended for. It is critical to ensure that there are wildlife habitats on both sides of the proposed crossing. Understanding who owns the land, what their plans are, and how the landscape may change due to climate change are also important considerations.
Data on collisions, migration habits and land use will not only inform decisions about whether a crossing is needed, but also which type of crossing is most appropriate.
Talking about projects often conjures up images of massive bridges carpeted with greenery. But not all projects are glamorous or that big, Warren said. Sometimes inflating ducts or installing a directional fence is enough to make a big difference.
Across the country, there are wildlife safe corridor alliances that often include entities such as transportation and wildlife agencies, as well as natural resource departments, nonprofits, and universities.
“If these partnerships are already in place, they probably have a lot of important data, they are probably starting to come up with a process for identifying and prioritizing wildlife crossings, or projects, or some kind of general mitigation measure,” Warren said.
These partnerships also help with community engagement and outreach, which will be part of the pilot program criteria, according to Wearn. While residents are often excited about wildlife crossings, local officials need to be aware of concerns, such as whether the project could result in more animals entering private property.
Warren said that if a state or local government has trouble finding an alliance to work with, there is no time like the present to build new relationships by organizing a Wildlife and Transportation Summit or by encouraging state agencies to participate in initiatives.
Warren said that while the funding itself is important, the wildlife transit program carries additional political and cultural significance. This is because it is an issue of safety, conservation, and economic concerns, and it generally has broad support across the political spectrum – from conservative hunters to liberal animal rights activists.
Since the Infrastructure Law was passed at least late last year seven statesCalifornia, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming have passed wildlife transit legislation to allocate funds for similar grants, according to LEARN.
in Agora Hills, California, Building what is described as the largest wildlife corridor in the world recently started. The project is worth $100 millionwhich will feature a bridge spanning 10 lanes of Interstate 101, was funded largely through public-private partnerships.
“It’s really exciting to work on an issue, in an age of so many partisanship and political divisions and groupings, and that’s broadly supported,” Warn said.