WYDOT applying for a $100 million stimulus grant
by Wyoming Department of Transportation
September 2, 2009
Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) will apply for $100 million in federal economic stimulus funds for a series of projects to improve highway safety through a system of wildlife crossing underpasses and overpasses to reduce the number of animal-vehicle collisions on the roads.
The structures would be combined with additional fencing along sections of US 191, US 189 and Interstate 80 in some of the heaviest deer, elk and pronghorn antelope migration corridors in the nation.
"We think this could become a model for projects to reduce animal-vehicle collisions not only in Wyoming but around the country," said WYDOT Chief Engineer Del McOmie. "Itís an innovative project that we really havenít had money for in the past. One of the things that Transportation Secretary LaHood stressed was projects eligible for the previous stimulus funding may not rank as high in the competition for these grants as projects that have some kind of innovative factor."
WYDOT is using the $157.6 million in highway construction stimulus money it has already received to begin completing some of the backlog of needed highway maintenance, repair and reconstruction work it hasnít had the funding to undertake in recent years.
But the criteria for the $1.5 billion in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants now being offered include innovation, improving safety, partnerships with a broad range of participants, contributions to the nationís economic competitiveness, improving energy efficiency and benefitting the environment.
In addition to the safety and environmental improvements the project can provide, a broad range of agencies have been involved in its planning, and because many of the migration routes are in natural gas fields, it can reduce conflicts with energy development and production and improve economic competitiveness.
"The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, U.S. Forest Service, BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been involved in putting this project together," McOmie said. "The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a number of environmental groups, I think, are going to offer a broad range of support for this project."
WYDOT is seeking letters of support from resource agencies to include with the grant application. Competition for the TIGER grants is expected to be stiff, but without the federal funds WYDOT wonít have the money to undertake the project.
Wyomingís highways cross the migration routes of some of the largest wildlife herds in the nation, and when the roads were originally built, traffic volumes were lower and little consideration was given to accommodating wildlife movements. Every year about 1,800 collisions with wildlife are reported on the stateís highways, causing an average of 149 injuries and two deaths a year during the past decade. The number of animals killed is in the thousands.
The proposed wildlife crossing project to address that problem includes 30 underpasses and five overpasses coupled with 192 miles of fencing to direct animals to the safe crossing areas at critical points in their migration routes.
On US 191, the projects would be in the Trapperís Point area west of Pinedale and the Dry Piney Creek area southeast of Pinedale. The structures on US 189 would be added between I-80 and Kemmerer. The I-80 projects would be in the Elk Mountain and Wamsutter areas, and between the US 189 and French interchanges east of Evanston.
"This effort will benefit the natural environment and help Wyomingís two leading industries, energy and travel and tourism, both of which have been significantly impacted by current economic conditions," WYDOTís grant application states.
Wildlife crossing underpasses WYDOT built on US 30 in the Nugget Canyon area west of Kemmerer have been successful in dramatically reducing collisions on that highway. Cameras monitoring those underpasses have recorded more than 12,600 animals passing through since December. The department has incorporated what it learned on those projects into the proposed statewide project.
"We think going in and addressing the problems on half a dozen of the major migration corridors across the state at once would be a great benefit to Wyoming, based on the number of animal-vehicle collisions we have," McOmie said. "If we can cut down the number of those collisions, it is a safety benefit and an economic benefit, because you donít have people injured or killed, you donít have that destruction of the vehicles and you donít have the destruction of the valuable wildlife resource."
Applications for the grants must be submitted by Sept. 15, and the grants are expected to be awarded by Feb. 17.