CDOT to build fence to prevent elk fatalities on highway
Local elk and deer who brave the whizzing cars on busy Highway 82 may get a little help from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) this summer. Often the elk and deer that dart across the highway between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale don’t make it to the other side and have disastrous run-ins with cars and trucks.CDOT recently announced it will spend $1 million from the federal Highway Hazard Elimination Program to construct four miles of wildlife fencing along the highway. Starting this summer, CDOT will begin designing – with recommendations from the Colorado Division of Wildlife – the fencing between mile markers 7 and 11, roughly between Buffalo Valley Restaurant and the scenic pull out at Carbondale. Construction is slated to begin the following summer, said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.That four-mile stretch of highway is top priority for CDOT because of the high incidence of wildlife related accidents, she said.In the four years between Jan. 1, 1999, and Dec. 30, 2003, there were a total of 202 accidents of all types. Of that total number, 75 accidents – or 37 percent – involved wild animals, Shanks said. None of those accidents involved human fatalities.Those numbers change from year to year for a variety of reasons, such as changes in numbers of animals lingering close to the highway.Animal and vehicle collisions are a problem throughout the West, said Jim Nall, CDOT traffic and safety manager for Region 3 headquartered in Grand Junction.”A lot of western states are facing issues of vehicle-animal collision. It has do with expanding urban areas into wildlife areas; we just get more exposure,” he said. “We’re trying to figure (out how) we can protect the driver and protect the animal.”The fence is part of a statewide effort by CDOT to reduce wildlife-caused accidents.”We have multiple pilot projects around the state,” she said, including an innovative light system along two miles of Highway 40 east of Craig. Last year, CDOT installed specialized reflectors that when hit by a car’s headlights send a light beam across or away from the roadway and scare away the deer and elk.”They send a criss-cross beam. We can’t see it but the wildlife can,” Shanks said, adding that the best way to describe the light is “like a laser tag game.”While the light beams have worked well in other states, the system hasn’t been in place long enough for CDOT to determine if it’s working near Craig.CDOT has also addressed problems on Highway 13 north of Rifle by lowering the speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph at night.”CSP (Colorado State Patrol) thinks it’s working,” Shanks said of the section of road between Rifle and Meeker, which sees many deer-car accidents.An innovative solution to elk and deer getting around wildlife fencing has been successful near Ridgway, Shanks said. Eventually deer and elk figure out how to go around the fencing then end up on the highway, become confused and can’t find their way back out of the roadway.At the suggestion of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, CDOT has added deer gates, upright metal posts spaced close together that work as a one-way access off the highway.”Elk don’t like the deer gates,” Shanks said. The DOW suggested earthen ramps built close to the top of the fencing, and sure enough, the elk took to them right away.”We put them on known game trails” near the entrance to Ridgeway State Park, and installed a camera to record elk activity. Shanks laughed when she told of a recent video clip that shows elk not only walking up the ramp and jumping over the fence, but getting up close and personal with the camera.”I think our overall goal is increase mobility and safety, and this project no different,” Nall said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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