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.
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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