Wildlife crossings could be coming to Colorado mountain highways

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VAIL, Colo. -- Plans to construct wildlife over- and underpasses along a large section of Interstate 70 are gaining traction in Colorado's high country.

The goal is to make one of the state's most dangerous highways safer both for drivers and for animals by funneling wildlife into designated crossings.

"in some places, we've seen up to a 90 percent reduction in vehicle-animal collisions where these have been built, so they tend to be really successful," says Kara Polansky.

Polansky works for the Denver Zoo, which teamed up with Rocky Mountain Wild to create the Colorado Corridors Project.

For months, they've been placing motion-activated trail cameras along I-70, between Copper Mountain Resort and the top of Vail Pass.

A black bear "Selfie" taken by one of Colorado Corridors Project's motion-activated trail cameras along I-70.

"We can get an idea of where these animals are naturally existing, where they're trying to cross, how they're behaviors might be affected by the highway. And then use that information to determine where the best place for the crossing structures might be," says Polansky.

In February, the group released a series of 40,000 images, taken by trail cameras near the proposed site.

The goal was for the general public to slowly help identify the animals in the photos. It took less than a week.

"We had almost 100,000 identifications in just one day, and that was amazing to us," says Kara Polansky. "The support and excitement around the project was amazing to see."

Polansky says the images have revealed some startling discoveries about animals in the area, specifically the Canada lynx.

"There are some animals, such as the Canada lynx, that seem to be somewhat bounded by the highway. So we see them on the south side, but we haven't yet captured any images of them in the median or north of it, so it's an indication they may not be willing to cross it as much as some other species."

The group plans on turning the information they've gathered over to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

CDOT says despite widespread support for the project, there are no immediate plans for an I-70 Mountain Corridor Wildlife over or underpass due to a lack of funding.

Similar crossings are currently being built south of Denver on I-25.

CDOT statistics show the average animal-related crash costs drivers around $3,100.

"It's definitely an expensive undertaking, but the cost of the collisions is really expensive," says Pulansky.

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