Every year, around 300 deer and elk are hit and killed by vehicles on Interstate 70 in the Rifle area, putting the stretch from West Rifle to Rifle in the top 5 percent of all state highways, two engineers told Rifle City Council.
Colorado Department of Transportation resident engineer Roland Wagner and project engineer Graham Riddile told council at a March 6 workshop how they hope to reduce the numbers of animal-vehicle collisions.
Ideal Fencing Corp. has been contracted for a $4.2 million project to install new wildlife fencing, road guards and ramps along a 24-mile long stretch of I-70, between West Rifle and Canyon Creek, west of Glenwood Springs.
The work consists of removing existing state right of way fence where necessary, and repairing or installing approximately 150,000 linear feet of eight-foot-high wildlife fence.
"We consult with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on these mitigation projects," Wagner said. "Since fencing and escape ramps were constructed along sections of State Highway 82 over the past couple of years, we've seen a dramatic reduction in animal-vehicle collisions on that highway."
On average, animal-vehicle collisions on I-70 from Utah to the top of Vail Pass account for 13.6 percent of all reported collisions along the stretch, according to CDOT figures. However, in the section from West Rifle to Canyon Creek, they make up 31.6 percent of all collisions.
In a presentation to the council, Wagner and Riddile explained the project will include:
• 48 miles of wildlife fencing, 24 on the south side, 24 on the north side. This includes 35 miles of new fence and 13 miles of repaired fence.
• 54 wildlife escape ramps, 27 on the north side and 27 on the south side of I-70, will replace game gates. These one-way escape ramps are soil ramps, with mesh material for erosion control. Ramps are built on the highway side of the fence, at a six-foot high "notch" in the fence, allowing wildlife to jump down to safety on the other side. Previous ramp construction was done on I-70 near Gypsum in 2010.
• Seven deer guards, similar to cattle guards, installed at highway accesses, but wider, since deer and elk can jump the narrower cattle guards. Three of those will be installed at the exit 94 interchange, the Garfield County Regional Airport.
• Eight-foot "special" deer guards installed at interstate ramps in West Rifle, Rifle and at Tibbetts Landing (a boat put-in access point further west). They consist of plastic pavement markings inlaid into cut depressions in the pavement and function as a highway rumble strip to slow exiting motorists down, while also deterring wildlife from crossing over and entering the interstate. They are about the same size as regular metal deer guards, 16- by 30 feet. Two of these will be added to the West Rifle interchange and four at the Rifle interchange.
Riddile noted the goal of adding new, high-tensile wire mesh fencing and guards on the roadways at the Rifle interchange is to "completely seal this area off" to deer and elk.
Wagner noted the animals will find other water sources if they are prevented from reaching the Colorado River at the interchange.
Councilman Keith Lambert asked if the city's plans to make aesthetic improvements to the city's entrance off I-70 could proceed, after the new fencing was installed.
Wagner said CDOT would "always work with you. Fencing isn't a high dollar item, so it's not a problem" to relocate sections to allow a city project to proceed.
"We just didn't want this fence to be something that's cast in stone," Lambert said.
Wagner also said using the high-tension fence along the Rifle interchange stretch is something that should not be a problem, after some councilmembers asked for it to be included.
Work began in February and will continue through October, said Riddile.