To Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions on Roads, States Need Dedicated Funding

New report shows that animal crossing structures work, and that more are needed

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To Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions on Roads, States Need Dedicated Funding
 A two-lane highway with a yellow dividing line runs under an overpass built mostly of gray concrete. The highway extends toward a cluster of well-spaced homes at the foot of a snow-covered forested mountain.
This overpass, built specifically to give wildlife a way to cross Colorado State Highway 9, is one of numerous similar structures that have reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions on this stretch of the roadway by 90% since 2016.
Jeffrey Beall Wikimedia Commons

As drivers in much of the U.S. know, the risk of collisions with wildlife on rural roads is an ever-present danger, and one with often disastrous outcomes for people and animals alike. Fortunately, many states have reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by as much as 90% through infrastructure improvements, including over- and underpasses specially designed for animals to cross roads without encountering traffic. These projects have also helped reconnect habitat essential to annual and seasonal wildlife migrations and movements.

Wildlife crossings tend to be expensive to build but also show a strong return on investment. States can apply for several new federal funding streams but securing that money is competitive and, in most cases, requires states to match the federal dollars. State legislatures, such as in Colorado and New Mexico, have recently appropriated funds specifically for crossing structures. But these are annual appropriations—which can be inconsistent and unreliable from year to year—and the needs for wildlife crossings and habitat connectivity require predictable, long-term funding. Sustainable, ongoing funding for wildlife crossings would improve states’ ability to match federal funding and deliver projects in a timely manner. 

A new Pew-commissioned study, “Revenue Options for Wildlife Crossings,” conducted by ECONorthwest, analyzes a dozen state revenue options that have proved successful in funding transportation and conservation projects across the West. The report evaluates and ranks potential wildlife crossing funding options, such as motor fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, speeding ticket surcharges, heavy-vehicle use taxes, and auto insurance collision surcharges. A funding mechanism evaluation matrix in the report displays the same information in a quickly digestible format, using a simple low-medium-high ranking system to assess funding options.

Ten people, one wearing the bright yellow vest and orange helmet of a highway worker and the others in casual clothing, stand near the shoulder of a two-lane highway amid brush and shrubs characteristic of the high desert: sage, juniper, and subtly flowering ground brush. A black SUV and a handful of other cars are on the highway, beneath a low mountain ridge beyond the far side of the road.
Employees of the Colorado Department of Transportation and local conservation nonprofit representatives survey a potential site for a wildlife crossing on a busy stretch of U.S. 550 north of Ridgeway, Colorado.
Courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation

The findings offer insight into which revenue streams could best meet states’ long-term funding needs for new wildlife crossings. The study also evaluates new conservation-related funding mechanisms, such as minor increases in fees for hunting licenses and use of state parks. 

Although including wildlife crossings in larger highway and road improvement projects has succeeded on occasion, that is not the best or most cost-effective solution to risks animals and drivers face on America’s roads. Dedicated state funding would substantially increase the ability to build wildlife crossing projects where and when they are needed, while simultaneously providing a reliable funding source to leverage additional federal dollars. Such dedicated financing mechanisms for wildlife-friendly infrastructure would also provide increased certainty for project planning purposes and likely accelerate construction of these structures.

Matt Skroch is a director and Nic Callero is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. public lands and rivers conservation project.

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Two elk stand by the road as traffic moves over a large underground crossing structure that allows animals to pass under US 285 at this point on the 2 mile long Safety Treatment Corridor along US 285 just South of Buena Vista, CO. on Tuesday, September 17, 2019.
Wildlife crossings, such as this one under U.S. 285 near Buena Vista, Colorado, provide safe passage for migrating elk and other animals

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