Utah officials were delighted to witness dozens of animals crossing the Utah wildlife overpass earlier than expected. The bridge was built so that local animals like raccoons, moose, elk, and deer can safely migrate while keeping them away from cars and trucks speeding across the state's infamous "Slaughter Row."
Experts originally believed that local wildlife could take years to get accustomed to the new bridge. Surprisingly, footage showed several species using the two-year-old bridge.
The Wildlife Crossing
Utah's Department of Transportation completed the animal-friendly infrastructure in December 2018. Since it was built to serve as a safe passageway for animals, the bridge was strategically located based on their migratory patterns.
The state's largest wildlife crossing is built above Interstate '80s six lanes of traffic at Parleys Canyon in Summit County. It spans 50 feet in width and 320 feet in length. It also incorporates over three miles of fencing stretching in both directions.
To blend with the landscape and encourage animals to use the overpass, boulders and logs have been placed across the bridge.
The bridge is part of UDOT's $22-million project that includes lane construction for oversized vehicles between Jeremy Ranch and Parleys Summit and the repaving between Kimball Junction and Lambs Canyon. The department allocated $5 million specifically for the new animal crossing.
Safe Migration, Safe Transportation
In the last two years, cameras installed on the bridge's guardrail have caught wildlife activities along the bridge. Aside from the expected moose, deer, and elk, the footage also showed predators and small mammals.
Black bears were seen wandering up and down the path, while a bobcat was also spotted carrying a small mammal in its mouth while walking across the bridge at night. A camera also recorded a big cat scratching on one of the logs strewn across the bridge. Although unexpected, coyotes, porcupines, and a yellow-bellied marmot were also seen crossing.
Aside from helping wildlife cross over the busy Interstate 80, the wildlife overpass also keeps motorists safer as accidents involving crossing animals are prevented.
Interstate 80, nicknamed "Slaughter Row," is among the riskiest stretches of highway in Utah. Before the bridge was built, UDOT recorded 106 collisions between vehicles and animals. Incidents like this have resulted in 98 deer, three moose, two raccoons, two elk, and one cougar.
Road ecology program manager Rob Ament of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University said collisions could be reduced by 85 to 95 percent as crossing and fencing guide animals under or over highways.
Save People Save Wildlife, an animal advocacy group, founded in 2015, focuses on raising awareness on coexistence with nature. The group also aims to educate Park City residents to respect wildlife.
Seeing the number of fatal accidents affecting local wildlife populations, the group called upon UDOT to construct an overpass in 2016.
The I-80 overpass is Utah's second infrastructure dedicated to wildlife crossing. The first one was built in the state's southern region in the 1970s.
A full analysis of how the new bridge has improved wildlife safety is planned to be conducted after the bridge has been functional for three to five years.
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