UDOT completes Utah’s largest wildlife crossing at Parleys Summit

The Utah Department of Transportation finished the state’s largest wildlife crossing over Interstate 80 on Thursday. The $5 million project is intended to reduce vehicle and wildlife collisions along the Interstate 80 corridor between Jeremy Ranch and Parleys Summit.
Courtesy of Sharon Cantwell

Within minutes of the Utah Department of Transportation officially opening the largest wildlife overpass in the state on Thursday, those who attended the event were thrilled to see a cow moose wandering nearby.

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 other animals.

Representatives from UDOT, the Division of Wildlife Resources, Summit County and the nonprofit organization Save People Save Wildlife attended the event, which signified the official completion of the wildlife crossing. It is the largest wildlife bridge of its kind in the state. A smaller crossing was built near Beaver along Interstate 15 in the 1970s.

“It’s exciting to have this done,” said John Gleason, UDOT spokesman. “This has been the most talked about UDOT project of the year, rightfully so. It is unique and it is really going to improve the safety of drivers in Parleys Canyon by cutting down on the wildlife and vehicle collisions. I think it is really going to make a big difference.”

The bridge was constructed as part of UDOT’s I-80 climbing lane project, which adding a climbing-truck lane between Jeremy Ranch and Parleys Summit. Several miles of asphalt were also replaced from west of Kimball Junction to Lambs Canyon.

The $22 million project was funded through the Utah Transportation Commission and included a $5 million grant from the federal government for wildlife mitigation. Gleason said it was critical to group the projects together, adding “Something like this wouldn’t always work as a standalone project.”

Gleason said UDOT has been committed to reducing wildlife/vehicle collisions along major corridors throughout the state, particularly I-80.

“We have a lot of wildlife in that area, including deer, elk and moose,” he said. “We obviously want to ensure their safety. But, the real purpose of this crossing is to ensure the safety of everyone traveling in the canyons. They are the real beneficiaries. They are going to be able to drive in that area and not have to worry about wildlife coming onto the freeway.”

The bridge is 320 feet long and about 50 feet across, with natural landscaping and boulders, Gleason said. He said UDOT worked closely with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to determine the best location for the crossing. The three miles of wildlife fencing along each side of I-80 will help funnel the animals to the bridge.

“We have heard from some of the experts that it may take a year or two before they begin to really use it,” he said. “We will probably see the peak in about year three because it may not be instinctual for them to cross right away. But, over time we are really confident this will have a major positive impact.”

Lorelei Combs, a member of Summit County-based Save People Save Wildlife, commended UDOT for following through with the project. Combs and other members of the wildlife advocacy group began encouraging UDOT to pursue the project in 2016, claiming the moose population was beginning to dwindle and drivers were at risk along I-80. They called it “Slaughter Row.”

While Combs celebrated the completion of the overpass, she was critical of its size. She said advocates were hoping for something that was wider and more organic, with grasses, trees and shrubs.

“We were hoping for something bigger and better, but something is better than nothing,” she said. “We are grateful for its completion and are hoping that the animals will begin using it as their migratory pass and that visitors can truly see the beauty of our city and not encounter dead animals as they enter.”

Sharon Cantwell, who is also a member of Save People Save Wildlife, attended the event and said she was “blown away” by the overpass.

“Our group truly feels like our wildlife has been decimated by the gap on I-80, and each of us know far too many people who have totaled their cars, which amounted to be the scariest experience of their entire life,” she said. “Each one of us cringe as we drive I-80. But, I feel like this can truly help.”

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