Bill includes $500,000 for Vail Pass wildlife bridge |

Bill includes $500,000 for Vail Pass wildlife bridge

VAIL – A proposal to build a multimillion-dollar wildlife bridge near the summit of Vail Pass got a lift Friday – to the tune of $500,000.Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard announced the money was approved by a House-Senate committee for inclusion in the 2006 Transportation Appropriations Bill. Final passage is expected next week.”I requested funding for this project because it will reduce the amount of vehicle-animal accidents on I-70,” Allard, a Republican, said in a news release. “This will make Vail Pass a safer place for both drivers and wildlife.”While the project is estimated to cost between $5 million and $9 million, the initial outlay of funds will pay for the environmental analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Monitoring of wildlife will also be part of the first phase, aimed at identifying the best spot for the bridge. Currently, it is proposed just a few miles west of the Vail Pass summit.The proposed overpass will look something like a highway bridge from the side, but instead of a roadway on top there will be a vegetated path. Spearheaded by the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, the wildlife bridge would be one of the first of its kind in the United States, and proponents hope it will serve as a pilot project for other such structures around the country.”The point of this project was to pick an important place that’s highly visible to raise awareness for other projects in the state and around the country,” said Monique DiGiorgio, executive director of the Ecosystem Project.In addition to the obvious potential benefit of preventing animals from being killed trying to cross the interstate, DiGiorgio said it will also make driving safer. In the decade between 1993 and 2003, nearly 25,000 animal-vehicle collisions were reported in Colorado. Along with about 10,000 deer, elk and other animals, 23 people were killed in those collisions.Sloan Shoemaker of the Roaring Fork Valley-based Wilderness Workshop said the announcement from Allard’s office Friday was a welcome surprise.”It’s big news because it means we’re in the pipeline,” Shoemaker said. “The value of this project for Colorado, drivers on I-70 and wildlife has been recognized beyond just locally.”Shoemaker said the hope is that the federal funding will now spur other grants of money to the project.”This is a great step to prime the pump,” he said. “We’re anxious to see all the parties interested in this contributing and matching the federal funds.”That could include state and local governments as well as private corporations and individuals, he said.

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