From snow-covered mountains to northwest ocean waters, it’s no secret that Washington is passionate about protecting all the wildlife in between.
In an effort to keep animals out of harm’s way, the state has invested millions of dollars into creating animal overpasses that stretch over busy roadways. A bridge under construction, east of Snoqualmie Pass, will be the the first of its kind in Washington, but it’s just not for conservation.
It’s about balancing human transportation needs with wildlife habitats, according to Washington State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meagan Lott.
“You’re improving safety, you’re relieving congestion and you’re also looking at the environmental aspects,” she told The Spokesman-Review.
Conservation Northwest has led efforts to get an overpass to connect two important habitats in the Price Creek area near mile marker 62 in eastern Washington.
As explained in a series of interviews in a Conservation Northwest documentary, animal crossings over I-90 — where 27,000 cars drive daily — is a serious safety problem for wildlife and drivers.
Animal monitoring shows that it’s wildlife’s natural migration pattern to cross I-90 because of how they come down from the mountain. And their best solution is the 150-feet-wide, vegetated overpass because it gives animals the most natural path forward.
They decided to steer away from creating an underpass — much like a successful construction project near the Summit of Snoqualmie — because elk out don’t like traveling underground.
“If we’re blocking them from moving, we’re preventing them to find food, we’re blocking their ability to find places to live,” Jen Watkins, Conservation Northwest’s I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition coordinator, said in a YouTube video.
“An overpass is a bridge over the highway … with native trees and shrubs from the surrounding forest, so they walk over the interstate and never realize they’ve left the forest on either side.”
While the overpass — totaling $6.2 million — near Spokane is now visible to drivers, it won’t be completed until 2019. It’s one of the 20 animal crossings planned in a billion-dollar upgrade project between Hyak and Easton.
As some taxpayers find that price tag steep, transportation leaders and conservation activists say that reducing the hazards of collisions is worth it.
On a smaller scale, King County already has functioning animal crossing bridge over a roadway in Redmond.
KIRO 7 News spoke with Rick Brater, county road engineer for the King County Road Services Division, just a year after it opened at Northeast Novelty Hill Road in 2015
“I think right now we can say it’s very successful,” Brater said. “We saw deer cross almost immediately as we opened it up.”
It usually takes about three to five years for animals to start using crossings. The area saw significantly fewer incidents with wildlife crossings just months into the city’s new bridge.