The Park City based non-profit Save People Save Wildlife-SPSW organization meets with the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Park City and Summit County officials on Wednesday to talk about ways to address the dangerous frequency of the SR 224 wildlife/vehicle collisions on the stretch adjacent to the McPolin Farm.
Ultimately the members of Save People Save Wildlife hope to convince UDOT, DWR, Summit County and Park City officials that the logical solution to wildlife collisions is to install cattle guards, fencing and a wildlife overpass on SR 224. Deer, moose and elk cross SR 224 daily between St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the White barn.
SPSW member Lorelei Coombs says Park City has grown and the conditions on 224 for wildlife and humans, are not safe. She reminds listeners that 30 years ago, the population of Park City was under 2000, there was one traffic light in town and the main corridor into town was just two lanes wide. The Osguthorpe dairy farm was in operation and they moved cows across the road daily to milk them in a structure that stands today on the east side of the highway. Coombs says nothing has been done in the 30 years to address the increasing collisions occurring on this section of road.
“224 has expanded to a double lane highway. The city has had major marketing campaigns bringing people in from across the country to ski, to do our festivals like Sundance that have over 38 to 40,000 people in a two-week period, huge influx of traffic coming into Park City. Yet there has been not one stitch of wildlife mitigation since 1987. There's no fencing, there's no wildlife overpass, there's nothing and no updated signage. So in 33 years there's been absolutely no action to protect the public or to protect our precious wildlife.”
A recent report by Dr. Patricia Cramer a wildlife ecologist, shows this section of SR 224 is the fifth most dangerous spot in the state for vehicle/wildlife collisions. SPSW member Erin Ferguson says the meeting is a call to action and that it’s time for all the agencies involved to be part of a solution.
“What are your plans UDOT? What are you budgeting for? What options are there? We need to show them that we have done our part as far as we've received incredible public support both with petition signatures as well as donations. The public wants this. It’s time for UDOT and the DWR and Park City and Summit County to listen. And we need to advocate for solutions that will keep the motorist safe, protect the wildlife and just bring back the continuity of the migration so the cops don't have to sit on 224 every morning and stop traffic for the animals to cross.”
Their objective is to get a commitment from UDOT, the Division of Wildlife Resources and both Park City and Summit County. Ferguson says an overpass would cost between eight and $12 million.
“You know, looking at wildlife collisions costing the public, whether it's insurance, automobile repair, hospital bills, is on average $138 million dollars per year. Why should you not be putting that on the public. It's time for them to step up and promote motorist safety.”
Coombs says they have 3100 signatures supporting the overpass initiative, but they aren’t sure if city and county officials support the effort. According to Summit County Transportation Planning Director Caroline Rodriguez there is no funding or transit plan in place for SR 224 although they are studying a bus transit system for the corridor.
Ferguson believes there is some support from UDOT, but she says money is the driver for putting fencing and overpass projects into their road budgets. She says her group has been working with UDOT for five years and she has advice about how people can get involved.
“People can write letters to UDOT and to your legislators as a constituent. Let's write letters from the platform of I'm a motorist, I'm a wildlife advocate, let's take that slant and see if it gets more attention. Let's search for grants, let's have all these entities step up and do what they can to contribute financially and let's get a working plan in place.”
Summit and Wasatch Counties have five out of the top 10 most dangerous areas in the state. Ferguson believes dropping the speed to 40 miles per hour and enforcing it would be effective. She says other western communities such as Jackson Hole have data showing it is effective for reducing collisions with wildlife.
Save People Save Wildlife initiated the UDOT funding and construction of the wildlife overpass on Parley’s Summit.