Better Crossing Design Can Reduce Collisions between Wildlife and People

The ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition, the first international competition of its kind, says collisions between wildlife and cars in the U.S. have increased by 50 percent in the past 15 years. Not only do these collisions take a huge toll on both wildlife and people, but they also cost the U.S. some $8 billion per year. To create a new wildlife crossing model that can enable animals with extensive migratory ranges — like bears, wolves, and lynxes — to better coexist with people, ARC asked designers to submit concepts that allow for safe mobility for a variety of species along separate but integrated transportation networks (see earlier post). Out of some 36 concepts submitted from teams worldwide, the design concept devised by HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates was unanimously judged to be the best for its cost-effective approach using “ordinary materials, such as concrete, in an extraordinary way.”

“HNTB+MVVA’s design is cost-effective, modular, easy to construct, provides greater material control, and uses a unique built-in drainage system,” says the ARC competition. Nina-Marie Lister, the ARC competition advisor and professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, adds: “The jury chose this design because it is not only feasible, but because it has the capacity to transform what we think of as possible – a novel design solution to a growing problem that could serve as a model for the world.”

New research shows that wildlife crossings do actually reduce collisions between wildlife and cars. ARC points to a study done in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, which demonstrated that a “series of 22 underpasses and two overpasses has resulted in an 80 percent reduction in total wildlife fatalities because wildlife was allowed to roam free uninterrupted of human transportation. As a result, there have been approximately 240,000 crossings (and counting) of 11 species of large mammals, including wolf, grizzly bear, elk, lynx, mountain lion, and moose across these paths.” 

The HNTB+MVVA design features a single span across a highway; there’s no central pier. “This single span is a unique feature that will provide a much safer experience for drivers by creating a more open experience.” The winning team’s design is innovative because it’s approximately four times wider than other crossing structures and includes fences that guide different types of wildlife across through safe passages. “This provides an ideal setting to accommodate wildlife movement and a diversity of habitats on top of the bridge.” The design was also judged to be among the more sustainable and low-cost options with its use of pre-fit modular concrete pieces.

The next step will be to implement the design somewhere in Colorado. The design competition’s site is West Vail Pass on I-70 in Colorado, about 90 miles west of Denver. The site was selected from a range of candidates. HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates received prize money and a preferential position for an upcoming state-financed wildlife crossing project on a site yet to be determined in the state. 

Clearly, there are numerous opportunities to deploy this solution, saving the lives of wildlife, which almost invariably die in these traffic accidents, and drivers in the process. Crafting a public-private financing model for the widespread roll-out of these overpasses should be a priority.

Learn more about the winning design concept, and explore ideas discussed in a conference on wildlife habitat and crossing design held last year.

Image credits: HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

3 thoughts on “Better Crossing Design Can Reduce Collisions between Wildlife and People

  1. James 01/26/2011 / 10:56 am

    This reminds me of Halprin’s Seattle Freeway Park.

  2. R. Gus Drum 01/27/2011 / 8:35 am

    A good sensitive design concept, however my state (WV) leads the nation annually in auto insurance losses due to deer/car collisions and I don’t see the state building these crossing facilities on its rural roads and interstates. Besides the immense cost, most of the highways in the state would be “tunneled” by these crossings.

    Perhaps having a better understanding of the movements of deer and other fauna prior to highway and roadway route planning would help to avoid many of these issues in the selection of the route or in making the initial investment decision in the first place…….let’s not forget the benefits of smart data collection in the initial planning process if we are truly concerned about collisions with wildlife.

  3. Thediamondseas 05/12/2011 / 5:16 pm

    Yes, analysis about these potential problems prior to highway construction would have been great. Thinking retrospectively. Thinking for the short and long-term futures, this is a facile argument. There are currently almost ZERO new highways being built that could leverage this analysis. The interstate system is an in-place infrastructure, therefore we must look for adaptive solutions to problems with the system. I think this project smartly adresses these problems with a feasible solution for ITS SITE.

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