Solving the critter crossing problem

By Mary Ebeling
When state Departments of Transportation address safety concerns related to motor-vehicle/wildlife crashes, the agencies save lives and reduce economic costs. Crashes involving larger animals – including deer, elk, moose, and bear – are on the rise, and many states consider addressing this safety concern an integral part of their mission. Wildlife-vehicle crashes result in significant monetary costs, and motorists colliding with big game may not live to tell the tale. When they do, the costs average $8,000 per crash if the collision is with a deer, $10,000 for an elk. Costs rise even more if the motorist hits a bear.
So it should be no surprise that Wyoming, for example, opted to spend approximately $10 million for safe wildlife crossings on their highway system. This figure pales in a comparison to the costs related to the crashes that would occur without any plan or mitigation. To help states in their efforts to reduce the frequency and severity of wildlife/vehicle crashes, the Federal Highway Administration recently issued a handbook for facility design addressing this very real problem.
Utah’s Department of Transportation has partnered with the state Department of Wildlife Resources to take a proactive approach to managing wildlife crashes, for instance by installing fencing to direct wildlife to underpasses and bridges. They are also using electrified mats, which deter wildlife from entering a highway right of way. It appears that the animals can detect the electricity and choose to avoid it, instead heading to a nearby underpass. In the first year of monitoring, more than 800 mule deer used the I-80 passage. Near the junction of I-70 and I-15, more than 3,000 mule deer pass through each year. UDOT’s program has cut crashes between wildlife and automobiles by more than 90 percent.
Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.