CDOT works to reduce roadkill on Highway 82
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Local activists and those charged with trying to reduce collisions between vehicles and wildlife are discussing whether they should focus on keeping animals off the road or slowing humans down.
Roughly one-third of all reported accidents in the past few years on Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Aspen involve wildlife, according to recent statistics from the Colorado Department of Transportation. The actual number could be even higher, since the agency estimates that at least half of wildlife-vehicle collisions go unreported, CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said.
Statewide, 24,678 such collisions were reported between 1993 and 2002, resulting in 23 human deaths, according to the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project.
CDOT has piloted several programs throughout the state in the past several years to decrease the accidents. Some ideas, like wildlife ramps, have already found their way to the Roaring Fork Valley. Others, like a detection system that warns drivers when wildlife are on the road, could be coming.
But local activists such as Frosty Merriott, Sierra Club of the Roaring Fork Valley wildlife committee co-chair, argue for fewer studies and more action. Merriott, who convened a meeting between CDOT, Colorado Division of Wildlife officials and citizens last week to discuss roadkill, is pushing for a nighttime speed limit on Highway 82 of 55 mph during migration season ” and tripled fines for those who don’t obey.
CDOT has built an underpass for migrating animals near the Airport Business Center, erected wildlife fences and employed message boards along Highway 82 to remind drivers to watch out for wildlife. It’s also piloted a wildlife ramp near Aspen Glen to help animals escape when they wander onto the highway and find themselves trapped by fences designed to keep them out.
Nonetheless, at least for the past three years for which CDOT has data ” 2002, 2003, and 2004 ” wildlife collisions have continued to make up roughly one-third of all accidents on Highway 82.
This season, CDOT will try putting different messages on the message boards, Shanks said. In years past, the signs have carried missives such as “Caution: Wildlife,” “Wildlife Near Roadways” and “Wildlife Migration.” But wildlife advocates like Merriott have suggested that drivers become immune to the generalized messages.
So this year, CDOT hopes to have signs along the highway that remind people that wildlife migration season is between October and January, followed by another sign with a message such as “please slow down,” Shanks said. The agency also hopes to set up signs that tell motorists how many animals have died on that stretch of road, either recently or in the past year. And it hopes to continually change the messages on the boards throughout the wildlife season so drivers keep paying attention.
“We’re doing what we can with the budgets we have,” said Shanks.
Statewide, CDOT has been piloting a variety of other programs, hoping to figure out which are successful. On Highway 161, from Durango to Pagosa Springs, the department is testing an animal detection system that uses a cable to identify changes in the earth’s electromagnetic field caused by large animals. The cable then communicates that information to a variable message board, so motorists receive real-time information about nearby animals.
And while CDOT has piloted a program reducing nighttime highway speeds, so far it says the data is inconclusive. In 2005, CDOT initiated a four-year trial program reducing nighttime speeds on Highway 13, north of Craig. First-year data for the program showed wildlife deaths decreasing during the night, but roadkill data also declined during the daytime, when speeds were not reduced, said Shanks. Data for the past two years has not yet been compiled, in part because of turnover at both CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol.
Any of these programs could come to the Roaring Fork Valley if they prove successful enough in other locations to warrant their cost, Shanks said. And the agency will continue to apply for funding for additional fencing and wildlife travel corridors along the highway, CDOT program engineer Joe Elsen said. A $1 million Highway 82 fencing project recently lost funding, though the agency was able to finish its $100,000 design.
Merriott and fellow activists are developing a presentation to convince governments and agencies to support lowering the nighttime speed limit during migration season on highways like Highway 82 that cross known migration corridors.
In 2005, a bill that would have doubled fines through wildlife-crossing areas on 28 miles of Colorado highways, including sections of Highway 82, passed in the Colorado House of Representatives, but was killed in a Senate committee.
Until better systems are developed to keep wildlife off the road or make humans slow down, experts warn those driving Highway 82 to scan the road ahead and use high beams whenever possible, and slow down during the fall. Wildlife-vehicle collisions along Highway 82 usually peak during the months of October and November, though migration season typically lasts until January, according to Shanks. Wildlife-vehicle collisions also peak at dawn and dusk.
Shanks warned that certain stretches of the highway are more prone to vehicle-animal collisions than others. On Highway 82, CDOT believes the most animal-vehicle collisions happen between Cattle Creek and the Planted Earth garden center near Carbondale.
Letters of support for CDOT’s efforts to obtain funding for local projects to reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions can be sent to Joe Elsen, CDOT, 202 Centennial St., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.
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