Vail Pass wildlife bridge gets $500,000 boost |

Vail Pass wildlife bridge gets $500,000 boost

Alex Miller
Special to the Daily/Tony Clevenger Aerial view of a vegetated wildlife overpass in Canada. A similar structure is proposed for Vail Pass.

VAIL – A proposal to build a multi-million dollar wildlife bridge near the summit of Vail Pass got a lift Friday – to the tune of $500,000.Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard announced the money was approved by a House-Senate committee for inclusion in the 2006 Transportation Appropriations Bill. Final passage is expected next week.”I requested funding for this project because it will reduce the amount of vehicle-animal accidents on I-70,” Allard, a Republican, said in a press release. “This will make Vail Pass a safer place for both drivers and wildlife.”

While the project is estimated to cost between $5 million and $9 million, the initial outlay of funds will pay for environmental analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Monitoring of wildlife will also be part of the first phase, aimed at identifying the best spot for the bridge. Currently, it is proposed just a few miles west of the Vail Pass summit.The proposed overpass will look something like a highway bridge from the side, but instead of a roadway on top there will be a vegetated path. Spearheaded by the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, the wildlife bridge would be one of the first of its kind in the U.S., and proponents hope it will serve as a pilot project for other such structures around the country.”The point of this project was to pick an important place that’s highly visible to raise awareness for other projects in the state and around the country,” said Monique DiGiorgio, executive director of the Ecosystem Project.In addition to the obvious potential benefit of preventing animals from being killed trying to cross the interstate, DiGiorgio said it will also make drivers safer. In the decade between 1993 and 2003, nearly 25,000 animal-vehicle collisions were reported in Colorado. Along with about 10,000 deer, elk and other animals, 23 people were killed in those collisions.

Sloan Shoemaker of the Wilderness Workshop said the announcement from Allard’s office Friday was a welcome surprise.”It’s big news because it means we’re in the pipeline,” Shoemaker said. “The value of this project for Colorado, drivers on I-70 and wildlife has been recognized beyond just locally.”Shoemaker said the hope is that the federal funding will now spur other grants of money to the project.”This is a great step to prime the pump,” he said. “We’re anxious to see all the parties interested in this contributing and matching the federal funds.”That could include state and local government as well as private corporations and individuals, he said.

Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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