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Wildlife overpass coming to southwest Colorado highway

A new wildlife mitigation project in Archuleta County will promote safer travel for motorists, enhance safer movement of wildlife and reduce animal-vehicle collisions along that section of the highway.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Special to the Daily

In an 18-month span from 2017-2018, there were 32 wildlife-vehicle collisions on a 2-mile stretch of Highway 160 between Durango and Pagosa Springs in the San Juan Basin of Colorado.

Seeing an increasing trend of drivers hitting animals on this stretch of road, Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Transportation have partnered with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and several other organizations to construct a new wildlife mitigation project in southwest Colorado — a wildlife overpass and underpass to keep drivers and animals more safe. Construction is scheduled to begin next spring.

“This is a heavily used corridor by vehicles and an important area in the San Juan Basin for big game,” said Scott Wait, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, in a news release. “Deer and elk spend the warm months in the high country to the north; but most big game move to the important winter range areas south of the highway during the winter. So there is a huge number of deer and elk that cross the highway at that location.”



The project will promote safer travel for motorists, enhance safer movement of wildlife and reduce animal-vehicle collisions along that section of the highway.

Organizations and agencies contributing toward the project include CDOT ($8.6 million); Southern Ute Indian Tribe ($1.3 million); CPW ($750,000); National Fish and Wildlife Foundation ($317,000); Mule Deer Foundation ($100,000, via a private donor); and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation ($75,000).



“Not only have several agencies and organizations come forward with valuable funding commitments, some agencies have also contributed with studies, research and development plans to make the project possible,” said Tony Cady, CDOT planning and environmental manger for southwest Colorado, in the news release.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe provided important biological information to help design the project.

“Hunting is an extremely important component to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and culture, and it is considered vital to keep these traditions alive,” said Steve Whiteman, acting director of natural resources, in the news release. “The Tribe has long maintained a positive working relationship with the state of Colorado, and looks forward to the collaboration with CPW and CDOT to bring this project into reality.”

Dating back to 2012, state officials have seen an increasing trend in wildlife-vehicle collisions along a certain stretch of Highway 160 in southwest Colorado.

The project site is located on Highway 160 in Archuleta County, centered on the Highway 151 intersection, near Lake Capote and Chimney Rock National Monument. The project will span about 2 miles on Highway 160, about 13 miles west of Pagosa Springs and 37 miles east of Durango, between mile points 126-128. It is expected to be completed by the fall of 2021 and includes construction of wildlife overpass and underpass structures, fencing, and highway extensions.

CDOT has built more than 60 wildlife mitigation structures crossing above or under highways throughout the state. Almost 400 miles of high big game fencing has been installed as well.

For more information, visit cpw.state.co.us/.


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