A 56-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 93 has been redesigned to allow animal crossings over and under the existing road, facilitating the safety of both wildlife and motorists.
The highway redesign came about as a means of preventing dangerous and sometimes lethal collisions between Montana’s citizens and the abundant – and often large – animals that surround them. Fast Company reports that four grizzly bears were killed in traffic collisions between 1998 and 2010 on one section of Highway 93 alone. This is to say nothing of the thousands of traffic accidents involving deer, mountain lions, moose, wolves and painted turtles that occur on Montana’s roads.
Improving the problem meant finding a way to facilitate easier passage from one side of the road to the other. This involved collaboration amongst Montana’s Department of Transportation, Montana State University, Defenders of Wildlife and the Salish and Kootenai Tribes, whose Flathead Indian Reservation overlaps one of the most dangerous sections of Highway 93 in terms of human-animal collisions. Together, these organizations created what Fast Company has dubbed the “most progressive and extensive wildlife-oriented road design program in the country.”
The 56 miles of the redesigned Highway 93 now boasts 41 underpasses and overpasses that animals are actually using with increasing regularity. Motion cameras installed in the crossings have recorded tens of thousands of animals in the act of crossing over, including does teaching their fawns to run from one side to the other.
According to the nonprofit Culture Change, an average of one million animals are hit by motor vehicles per day – with nearly 400 million struck every year. The DOT for the state of Washington, a short jump over Idaho from Montana, reports an average of 1,100 wildlife/vehicle collisions per year. However, the DOT notes that “not all collisions are reported since WSDOT removes an average of nearly 3,500 deer and elk carcasses from Washington highways annually.” In all, these collisions result in an average of 1,190 human injuries and two fatalities per year.
It’s not surprising then that several state highway departments are currently studying 93 as a model for their own future redesigns.