Highway Safety & Wildlife Crossings

Reader Contribution by Jessie Fetterling

Each day I have to use an interstate highway to get to and from work. I use this time to think and relax a bit, but my thoughts are too frequently interrupted by the sight of road kill. And even if I just see it out of the corner of my eye, I get a little sick to my stomach. 

In the United States alone, there are at least 3.9 million miles of public roads, causing problems for those animals whose habitats are divided. Most animals need to be able to move between different patches of land to acquire everything they need to survive. When highways divide these patches, they make it so that animals have to cross roads to meet their physical needs, resulting in about 1.5 million animals that become road kill each year.

This problem doesn’t just affect the population of animals, either — it hurts people, as well. Animal-vehicle wrecks cause about 200 human fatalities and 29,000 injuries a year. Luckily, the Federal Highway Administration has introduced different kinds of wildlife crossings as a solution to the fight between wildlife and urban developers. Bridges, tunnels and barriers allow animals to go over, under and around highways, reducing the fatality rate and the number of injuries to both wildlife and humans. 

Defenders of Wildlife is a strong advocate for the promotion of wildlife crossings. Its goal is to encourage the idea of combining wildlife conservation with future transportation planning in order to reduce the effects that current roads and highways have on animals. Planning for road construction and improvements, however, is done at the state level by the Department of Transportation (DOT). In order to make any future changes to aid nearby wildlife, the DOT in that state needs to be contacted first. 

In Washington state, citizens are already fighting for these types of changes. The state’s citizens and the U.S. Congress have spent about $70 million on protecting the wildlife corridors in the area and plan on keeping up those standards for animal safety. The I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition is currently working with the Washington State Department of Transportation on the expansion of Interstate 90, as long as the design includes bridges and crossings of the highest standards for wildlife. 

So, while road kill may seem inevitable to some, know that you can talk to your Department of Transportation or join a coalition to support a safer, less disturbing travel experience.