News: Infrastructure Bill Earmarks $350 Million For Animal Crossings

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) walking in the road.
© Kristian Bell/Shutterstock.com

Written by Mike Mcpherson

Published: October 10, 2021

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Washington appears deadlocked at the moment with regard to the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, in-fighting that also ensnares a Senate passed $1.2 trillion package. The crux of the issue involves a pair of U.S. Senate holdouts, but negotiators hope to bridge the gap with various concessions. If they succeed, the initial $1.2 trillion bill contains funds to help bridge the gap between wildlife habitats divided by roadways.

$350 million of the infrastructure bill is reserved for construction projects aimed at improving the flow of wildlife across disruptive freeways. By building over and underpasses, animals would be able to migrate between habitats, reducing the number of collisions. Annually, over a million such collisions occur across the country, resulting in 29,000 injuries and 200 fatalities, with untold loss of animal life. The dollar figure on damages paid out by drivers and state and federal governments rises above $8 billion. The infrastructure bill seeks to reduce these costs and alleviate the impact of roadways on wildlife habitats.

Projects Covered By Infrastructure Bill

The investment in the creation of wildlife crossings will target highly trafficked points along roads cutting through wildlife habitats. The $350 million accounts for 5 years of construction, developing crossings as well as fencing to direct wildlife traffic to the crossing, thus preventing collisions. These follow in the footsteps of projects such as Highway 97 in Washington State, where a series of underpasses constructed in recent years have reduced collisions. Deer and elk now have safer routes to cross busy freeways.

Additionally, another $1 billion spread over the same 5 year span will be doled out to local, state, and tribal governments for the repair and replacement of dysfunctional culverts. These pipes, designed to carry streams of water beneath roads, often prevent salmon populations from reaching their cold water habitats. A project director with Pew Charitable Trusts, Nicole Cordan told Oregon Public Broadcasting, “When we take out a dam or culverts, we see the impact that has on the full ecosystem, bringing back salmon and other critters that eat those fish.”

Furthermore, another $250 million will be spent on repairing forest roads and trails.

Treacherous Road Crossings

The U.S. Department of Transportation created the Fatality Analysis Reporting System in 1975. It charts, among other statistics, the number of the human casualties in wildlife collisions each year. Each successive decade has shown a steady increase in the number of annual deaths, from less than 100 in the 1970s to over 200 in recent years. Data on animal deaths relies upon guesswork, but estimates range from one to two million. Though the majority of animals struck by automobiles are deer, road mortality presents a considerable threat to a number of endangered species, as well. Animals like the Florida panther, the red wolf, and even the American crocodile face the threat of vehicular maiming and death in addition to the myriad other human and environmental threats to their existence.

But collisions are just one hazard posed by the presence of roadways in wildlife habitats. The importance of crossings is the ability for animals to migrate between different habitats. This allows both access to feeding and mating grounds, as well as new gene pools. When populations become isolated, they lose genetic diversity, which makes for a more vulnerable group. This is the primary drive behind the creation of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, for example.

Furthermore, rumbling cars and trucks pollute the air with disruptive noise, especially harmful to bird species. They flee the disturbance, abandoning areas otherwise conducive to their survival. Some, like the quail, even experience hearing loss.

Efficacy of Wildlife Crossings

Studies on the impact of wildlife crossing around the globe have shown this simple solution saves lives, as well as money. From Florida, to Australia and Mexico, these mitigation efforts prove successful. In speaking with National Geographic, Rob Ament, a road ecology program manager at Western Transportation Institute, said, “You can get reductions of 85 to 95 percent with crossings and fencing that guide animals under or over highways.”

One key to success is ensuring the right type of crossing for the local wildlife species. Depending on one’s preferences, an animal may prefer an overpass to an underpass, an open crossing to a tunnel. For example, cougars and black bears tend to use crossings with less light and space, a preference influenced by their forest homes, as opposed to a prairie. By incorporating familiar plant life and constructing crossings in accordance with animal comfort, these passages better marry infrastructure with environment.

Eventually, when the infrastructure bill passes, these funds will help preserve wildlife in a world increasingly hostile to animal species.


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