Colo. Senate sabotages wildlife crossing bill
ASPEN – A bill intended to reduce collisions between vehicles and wildlife on Colorado roads, including Highway 82, has been sabotaged in the state Senate, Rep. Kathleen Curry said Monday.
House Bill 1238 was approved by a 35-28 vote by the Colorado House of Representatives on April 14. Last week, the Senate Transportation Committee amended the bill to create a pilot project with a wildlife crossing on Highway 82 between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
“It was a clear way to turn it into a nothing bill,” said Curry, whose district includes the Roaring Fork Valley.
Curry was the House sponsor of the bill. Snowmass Village Democrat Gail Schwartz is the sponsor in the State Senate. Curry said Schwartz told her she will do her best to “amend it back to the way it was.” Curry believes that will be an uphill battle. There is clear opposition to the bill, but she is uncertain why.
The Wildlife Crossing Bill would authorize the Colorado Department of Transportation to designate up to 100 miles of wildlife crossing areas on state highways. Those zones would be established after consultations with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Patrol.
The designated areas would receive special signs, similar to the school zones and construction zones, and slower speed limits would be set. Fines would be double for exceeding the speed limit.
Curry said the bill was written so that it couldn’t be used as a revenue enhancer for the state. The fines from tickets issued would be used to pay for the signs in the wildlife crossing zones.
In addition, the wording doesn’t require the transportation department to find the wildlife crossing zones. It gives them the authority to designate areas, where warranted, up to 100 miles.
“It’s a permissive bill, not a mandatory bill,” Curry said.
The Roaring Fork Valley’s legislators agreed to introduce the bill this session after meeting with Carbondale wildlife advocate Frosty Merriott. He has lobbied for years to get night-time speed limits reduced in stretches of highways with high rates of road kill.
Collisions with deer and elk are particularly common. Bear and small game are also regularly hit while crossing roads. Wildlife-vehicle collisions accounted for 20 percent of accidents between Aspen and Glenwood Springs in 2005, according to state statistics.
The transportation department is trying to reduce collisions on Highway 82 and other roads with wildlife fencing. Eight-foot tall fencing was erected last fall along a 4-mile stretch by the Aspen Glen Golf Club, between mile markers 7 and 11.
State patrol data shows the number of vehicle collisions with wildlife in that stretch dropped from 27 in winter 2008-09 to nine last winter.
Additional fencing will be erected this summer between mile markers 11 and 16 on Highway 82.
The state scored $423,810 in federal funding for the first fence and $1.5 million for this year’s project.
Curry said the fencing makes Highway 82 ineffective as a test site for the wildlife crossing zone. There will be no way to gauge if the fencing or the wildlife crossing zone reduced collisions.
If Schwartz cannot get the bill amended to original wording, Curry will likely seek a meeting of a conference committee, which resolves differences between House and Senate bills. She said she might pitch a different highway as a pilot project for the wildlife crossing zone.
But Curry bristled at the idea that a pilot project is necessary.
“I don’t believe that more study is needed to better understand the well-established fact that high speeds reduce driver reaction time which in turn leads to more collisions,” she wrote in a legislative roundup that was e-mailed to constituents on Sunday. “The tourists visiting areas where there are game migration routes are not going to know when the possibility of a collision is high unless we get more aggressive with signage, or, if we would prefer to spend millions, we could erect more game fencing.”