UDOT officials and representatives from the DWR, Division of Wildlife Resources, gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the official opening of the first Wildlife Bridge in the state. The irony of the event is that it’s really a closing because the message was clear from all those at the event. Now that it’s open, people and pets need to stay away. Carolyn Murray was there and has this report:
In two years, the stretch on I-80 from Lambs Canyon to the Jeremy Ranch Exit has produced over a hundred wildlife caused crashes. DWR representative, Scott Root said that number is low because many times animals are hit, and they run off only to die elsewhere. But he said the Park City residents who initiated the project should be acknowledged for the benefits the wildlife bridge will provide. It will keep drivers safer as well as the wildlife that migrate across I-80 at the top of Parley’s Canyon.
“Kudos to the residents of Park City. We know it will probably be used and hopefully, quite well in the future. And, as we were there, I saw two different moose near the structure. One was only about a hundred yards away. And, there were deer tracks on the other side, so I feel very confident it will be used. And, it will be very helpful for big game migration. They can get to their summer range and their winter range."
UDOT spokesperson, John Gleason said mixing the severe weather, the high traffic speeds and the large game animals makes for dangerous driving conditions.
"But the real purpose here is to keep drivers safe going through Parley’s Canyon. You mix those high speeds with a lot of large animals, like moose, deer, elk and the results can be catastrophic. So, a bridge like this, a project like this is really going to address some of those concerns. You know, this is probably the most talked about UDOT project of the year. And, rightfully so. It’s a unique project. It’s exciting to be able to do something like this not nly to protect the wildlife in the area but also to save the lives of people that travel here in the canyon. And, that’s the real objective here, to improve safety in Parley’s Canyon.”
UDOT Natural Resources Manager Matt Howard said he will monitor animal traffic on the bridge with motion sensitive cameras over the next five years. He said it’s going to take several years before they can measure the success of the bridge.
“The data shows that that’s about how long it takes for animals to learn about a new crossing and what’s really important is that they start training their young to use it. So, once we have that second and third generation of animals using it, then we can say what we are really looking at. But, as soon as we start getting animals crossing, I am going to put together highlight reels of the crossing especially when we get species that might be exciting. We expect to cross a lot of mule deer but if we get anything like a moose or anything else, I would definitely want to make sure people know that we’ve crossed it.”
The bridge is the first above surface crossing and it’s landscaped to look like natural habitat. Howard said there are thousands of safe wildlife crossings happening all over the state that drivers don’t see.
“We have some extremely successful underpasses all over the state that are thousands of animals a year. But, this is definitely the first over pass so it’s a lot more charismatic and people will notice it. But, people are driving over successful wildlife crossings all over the state and people don’t even know it’s there.”
According to UDOT’s spokesperson, they are not considering other bridges or additional wildlife fencing right now. Gleason said the $5.5 million-dollar bridge never would have been funded without the newly built noise wall or the new climbing lane projects recently completed between the Jeremy exit and Parley’s Summit.
“The partnerships with the Division of Wildlife, the community of Summit County, but also the fact that we had the existing project happening up here, the climbing lane project. So, this is part of that climbing lane project. They’re all tied in together. This wouldn’t be a stand-alone project. There’s really a lot of work happening in Parley’s Canyon and it’s all focused on keeping traffic moving and improving the safety of the canyon.”
In 2015, the citizens group, Save People Save Wildlife began the work of petitioning UDOT to build the wildlife ridge. Spokesperson, Sharon Cantwell said they’re delighted with what the crossing, but they’ re not done. She’ll be on KPCW later this month to talk about efforts to continue fencing along I-80 from Jeremy Ranch to Kimball Junction.
A reminder that wildlife won’t use the bridge if there is the scent of dogs or humans near it.
Photos can be found on KPCW.org and on our face book page.