Too soon to tell if wildlife overpass over Interstate 80 was successful, officials say
It’s been almost four months since the Utah Department of Transportation finished the largest wildlife crossing in the state. But, officials say it is still too soon to tell if the overpass has been successful in reducing the number of collisions between vehicles and animals.
The crossing spans six lanes above Interstate 80 at Parleys Summit and is intended to serve as an alternative path for migrating moose, elk, deer and small animals.
The bridge was constructed as part of UDOT’s I-80 climbing lane project, which added a climbing-truck lane between Jeremy Ranch and Parleys Summit. The $22 million project was funded through the Utah Transportation Commission and included a $5 million grant from the federal government for wildlife mitigation.
John Gleason, a spokesman with UDOT, said it took a few years for animals to begin using a similar crossing in Southern Utah. But, now it is like second nature to them.
“It will probably take some relearning,” he said. “There is a good chance we won’t know how effective this crossing is for a while. It will really be about determining if it is cutting down on those vehicle/animal strikes.”
Parleys Summit teems with wildlife because of the mountainous terrain on either said of the interstate, which is why that location was identified as the best spot for the crossing. Three miles of wildlife fencing along each side of the interstate were put in place as part of the project to help funnel animals to the bridge.
Wildlife advocates also pushed for the crossing to not only reduce collisions, but help prevent animal deaths. Between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018, there were nine recorded accidents around Parleys Summit involving a wild animal, according to information provided by the Utah Department of Public Safety and UDOT.
Nick Street, a spokesman for the Utah Highway Patrol, said he continues to hear of incidents involving troopers trying to wrangle moose that have made their way onto the interstate.
“We’ve had a couple moose on the loose just within the last couple of weeks so we know that some haven’t really gotten the hint yet,” he said.
Scott Root, the conservation outreach manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources region, said it is a little premature to determine whether the wildlife bridge has been successful.
Root said the snow has been deep, especially around the south end of the overpass. He said that may be deterring some animals from using it. He added, “I also just don’t really think the usage will be as significant in the winter.”
“But, now that the snow is starting to melt, I think that overpass should be used from March through December,” he said.
Root placed cameras around the bridge to see if animals are using it, but hasn’t been able to view the footage yet.
“The camera that I put up from the first month had a corrupted card so it didn’t have anything on it,” he said. “But, there were some deer, rabbit and turkey tracks near the entrance to the bridge, so they might be using it and we just don’t know. I put up some more cameras and hopefully will be able to capture something.”
Root doesn’t doubt that the overpass will be used. He estimated it may take about a season for the animals to “get some courage up” and walk across. But, he pointed out the watershed area south of the overpass that goes up into the pines could attract animals such as elk and moose.
“If we would have a normal or average winter, it could get used quite a bit, especially as they learn about it,” he said. “I think it was a fantastic investment. My plan is to check my cameras and if I just get one critter on there, I will share it with the world as a $5 million animal. Every time wildlife uses that, we don’t have to be in danger of hitting a moose so it was definitely worth it.”
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.