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Infrastructure Bill Would Pave Path For More Wildlife Bridges, Tunnels

 A wildlife overpass in Canada's Banff National Park.
Craig Zerbe
Adobe Stock
A wildlife overpass in Canada's Banff National Park.

The proposed federal infrastructure bill would allocate $350 million over five years to build more wildlife bridges and tunnels across the nation’s highways. The investment's intended to reduce the number of expensive and deadly wildlife-vehicle collisions – an issue that's especially acute in more rural Western states. In Wyoming, for example, 15% of all crashes involve wildlife, according to the state's Department of Transportation.

“When animals and humans meet on the road it usually does not end well for either,” says Matt Skroch, U.S. public lands and river conservation project director for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Pew estimates that at least one million large animals are killed by vehicles every year across the U.S. Collisions involving wildlife cost drivers, passengers and insurance companies an estimated $8 billion a year in health and medical costs, according to Skroch.

Studies show wildlife crossings can reduce accidents and save lives. They’re built by using fences to funnel animals such as elk, moose, and deer over bridges or through tunnels across highways.

“It essentially removes the animal from the actual roadway, making the road safer for people and allowing the animal to get from point A to point B, which is very important,” Skroch says.

Highways can often serve as barriers for important and historic wildlife migration routes, but the crossings give animals safe passage. The infrastructure bill has a provision that would give federal money to state, local and tribal governments to build more of these crossings – like the overpass currently being built across Highway 160 in southwest Colorado.

It’s the first time the feds have dedicated resources to the issue. The U.S. Senate passed the bill in August. It’s now awaiting a vote in the House.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.

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