This Tuesday, the Washington State Department of Transportation will break ground on a wildlife crossing that will span Interstate 90, a major thoroughfare linking the Seattle area with eastern Washington. The 150-foot-long (45-meter) wildlife bridge – about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Seattle near the Snoqualmie Pass – will be the largest of its kind in the state.
The new corridor will help cut down on collisions between vehicles and animals along a “critical connective link” in the north-south movement of wildlife living in the Cascade Range, according to the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition.
Jen Watkins, a project coordinator with the coalition, says three new wildlife tunnels under the highway are already being used by smaller animals.
There are a number of other eco-bridges both here in the U.S. and Canada – including in Montana, Washington and Calgary – and around the world in places such as the Netherlands and Germany.
Do they make a difference in reducing wildlife roadkill?
Animals are wise to what keeps them safe, perhaps more than we give them credit for. In 2012, monitoring of an eco-corridor in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada – where monitoring began in 1996 – revealed that wild animals had crossed the 35 underpasses and six overpasses more than 200,000 times.
Watkins said she expects the crossing to become especially popular as adult animals begin training their young to use the new bridge once it’s completed. Scientists also hope the spans will help the recovery of endangered wildlife populations, like wolverines and the gray wolf.
The new bridge, which will take about four years to complete, will be one of two scheduled to follow along the interstate highway, which is undergoing a $1 billion revamp along a 15-mile (24-km) stretch to improve safety and widen the corridor to six lanes from four. The wildlife bridge will accommodate large animals, like black bears and elk, as well as smaller species like salamanders, as they shuttle across the highway looking for food and mates, authorities said.
It will be interesting to see what type of design this eco-bridge is given. A number of others have proven to be quite architecturally fascinating. Regardless of its look, kudos to the Washington DOT for pursuing this project. It’s a large step in conservation and animal welfare.