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Wildlife crossings coming to U.S. Highway 160 east of Durango

Project expected to decrease animal-vehicle crashes by 90%
An artist rendering shows an elk using the overpass to be built over U.S. Highway 160 near Chimney Rock National Monument. The project will also include an underpass. Studies indicate big game prefer an above-ground path while smaller animals prefer underground paths to cross highways.

Both a wildlife overpass and an underpass will be built next year on U.S. Highway 160 near Chimney Rock to reduce the number of vehicle-wildlife collisions.

The $11.1 million project was largely funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation, which contributed $8.6 million. Other entities contributing funding were: Southern Ute Indian Tribe, $1.3 million; Colorado Parks and Wildlife $750,000; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation $317,000; Mule Deer Foundation, $100,000; and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, $75,000.

The project, to be centered around the Colorado Highway 151 intersection, about 13 miles west of Pagosa Springs, was designed using migration patterns of wildlife in the area provided by global positioning system data compiled by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

The Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance, a consortium of federal agencies, nonprofit groups, academics, biologists and engineers, assisted in structuring the financial partnership to pay for the project.

“We are extremely grateful for the phenomenal partnerships that have made this project feasible,” said Tony Cady, CDOT planning and environmental manager for Southwest Colorado, in a news release.

The wildlife underpass will be just west of the U.S. Highway 160 and Colorado Highway 151 intersection at milepost 126.8. The overpass will be just east of the U.S. 160-Colorado 151 intersection at milepost 127.3.

Besides the overpass and underpass, the project will include:

Installation of an 8-foot-tall wildlife exclusion fence along both sides of Highway 160 throughout the project – about a 2-mile stretch.Construction of earthen escape ramps and deer guards, which are similar to cattle guards but wider to prevent deer from jumping them, along the length of fencing.Installation of a large deer guard on Colorado 151 at the approach to Highway 160.Extension of the existing westbound passing lane on Highway 160 at the Highway 151 intersection.Construction of the project will begin in spring 2021, and it is expected to be complete in fall 2021.“Hunting is an extremely important component to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and culture, and it is considered vital to keep these traditions alive,” said Steve Whiteman, acting director of Natural Resources.

Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the wildlife fencing and deer guards will guide migrating animals to the overpass for crossing. Big game generally prefer overpasses while smaller animals prefer underpasses, Lewandowski said.

“These designs have really been used all over the world. Canada really pioneered these things,” he said.

Migration patterns compiled by the Southern Utes and CPW showed the area has a high number of collisions caused by migrating ungulates, he said.

“There is science behind this, we don’t just, you know, slap them up,” he said.

More than 60% of all crashes in the project area on U.S. Highway 160 west of Pagosa Springs are attributed to wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Based on a similar project on Colorado Highway 9, the project is expected to reduce animal-vehicle crashes by about 90%, said CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes.

The construction project, worth $7.65 million, was awarded to Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Co. of Utah.

Scott Wait, a senior biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said: “This is a heavily used corridor by vehicles and an important area in the San Juan Basin for big game. Deer and elk spend the warm months in the high country to the north; but most big game move to the important winter range areas south of the highway during the winter. So there is a huge number of deer and elk that cross the highway at that location.”


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