US awards $110 million to reduce wildlife car collisions

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department is awarding $110 million to fund 19 projects in 17 states to help reduce car collisions with wildlife and help animals safely cross roadways.

There are more than 1 million wildlife vehicle collisions in the United States with large animals like deer that cost more than $8 billion annually. Wildlife-vehicle collisions result in about 200 deaths and 26,000 injuries to drivers and passengers annually, federal officials say.

Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt said the wildlife crossing funding is "targeted at a very real safety concern."

One project in Arizona is using GPS data to track where elk are moving, he said. "We can get smart about how we use technology to reduce these collisions."

The awards are the first under a five-year $350 million program funded by the $1 trillion 2021 infrastructure law. The federal government received applications seeking $550 million in funding.

Arizona is getting $24 million to build nearly 17 miles of new wildlife fencing connecting existing culverts, escape ramps and double cattle guards along busy Interstate-17 while increasing habitat connectivity for elk and mule deer.

Wyoming will receive $24.4 million to build an overpass, several underpasses and wildlife fencing along 30 miles of US 189. Between 2017 and 2021 crashes involving wildlife accounted for nearly 20% of all traffic crashes there, the state said.

Colorado won $22 million to build an overpass on I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs, the state’s two largest cities.

Colorado's Greenland Wildlife Overpass will be one of the largest overpass structures in North America, spanning six lanes of highway to help reduce vehicle collisions with elk and mule deer.

Vermont is getting $1.6 million to design a wildlife underpass crossing in the Green Mountains to provide safe crossing for large animals such as black bears and moose.

Since the pandemic, U.S. traffic deaths have spiked. Road deaths jumped 10.5% in 2021 to 42,915, the highest number killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul)