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Idaho's first wildlife overpass under construction

Advocates of the project hope the overpass helps reduce the number of wild animal-related crashes along State Highway 21.

BOISE, Idaho — Some of Idaho's wildlife between Lucky Peak and Idaho City will soon have another way to cross State Highway 21. 

The state's first wildlife overpass is under construction, with a finish date of October. Scott Rudel, Idaho Transportation Department environmental planner, said the area is a hotspot for crashes between drivers and animals. 

"We have a migrating herd of deer and elk that winter back and forth between their winter range and their summer range, and they have to cross State Highway 21," Rudel said. "But when they are crossing, they create a mobility issue between the motorists who encounter them." 

ITD data shows there have been nearly 7,000 wild animal-related crashes on Idaho roads in the last five years. About 40 of those happened along the stretch of SH 21 above Robie Creek to Lucky Peak. 

Rudel said the wildlife crossing will help reduce those numbers. About 10 years ago, ITD added an underpass about a mile away from where the overpass is getting built. 

Since installing the underpass, there have been no reported wildlife crashes and very few carcasses found on the road. He said they are aiming for a similar result with the overpass. 

Once completed, Rudel said it will be the first wildlife overpass in Idaho. The state already has a variety of crossings, including the underpass. 

The project costs about $7 million. He said most of that money came from the federal government, specifically through the Federal Lands Access Program.

Since most of the land around the overpass is federal land, Rudel said it makes sense for the federal government to pitch in. 

"You can see how this project in the criteria meets the objectives of that highway program," he said. 

Other financial partners for the overpass include the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game, Rudel said. 

Jeff Abrams, Idaho Conservation League wildlife program associate, supports the overpass project. He said well-placed infrastructure can reduce wildlife collisions by 80-90%. 

Abrams said he is excited about the influx of federal funds for wildlife crossing projects. 

"It's going to be a great thing for our state's wildlife and our economies," Abrams said. "Animals needs to be able to move seasonally to find things like food, water and essential habitat. So, having safe travel corridors for this is critical to their survival."

Abrams believes the project will garner broad support, since coming across animals while driving is just part of living in the Northwest. 

"We've all experienced either having a wildlife vehicle collision ourselves, or the aftermath of that by seeing carcasses littered across the highways, and that resonates with people," Abrams said. 

He said ITD should built more overpasses around the state. Abrams encouraged people to reach out to the department if they see any problem areas. 

Abrams added new technology helps officials pinpoint where the state could add overpasses or underpasses. 

"We can also take a clue from our neighbors," Abrams said. "Seems like all over the west, states are recognizing the importance of migration corridors, and they're adopting language in support of this, and we'd love to see Governor [Brad] Little join in this important work as well." 

ITD will monitor how big of an impact the State Highway 21 overpass makes on animal-related crashes. If they see a big difference, Rudel said the project will likely open the door to adding additional overpasses. 

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