The U.S. Department of Transportation announced its first round of federal grants to the states for wildlife crossings. The grant program was made available as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2021.
Projects in 17 states were chosen, and there were worthy projects in other states as well. That’s not us grousing about what wasn’t chosen, but rather it’s noting just how enthusiastic states were about seeking out these funds.
Based on the state proposals, Congress needs to think hard about providing more money in the next transportation bill.
What is a wildlife crossing?
We’ve all seen roadkill — the dead deer, skunks, foxes, elk and more along the sides of the road. The bigger the animal, the greater damage to the car and driver.
Roads cut through the migratory routes of pronghorn, deer, elk and more. Roads also fracture habitats, carving them up into areas too small to support a species, forcing animals to dodge cars and trucks in search of food or mates.
A crossing is simply a way to reconnect nature. Bridges over busy freeways and underpasses under speeding cars are perhaps the most readily understood. But crossings can also include fences to herd migrating animals toward designated crossing areas, where rumble strips and warning signs slow vehicles.
You can read about Wyoming’s use of the latter in our report, Reconnecting Nature.
Humans die from collisions too
It’s estimated that there are approximately 26,000 injuries and 200 deaths to drivers and passengers each year from animal collisions.
In announcing the grants, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said: “Every year, too many Americans are injured or killed in crashes involving cars and wildlife, especially in rural areas… The projects we’re funding today in 17 states will reduce collisions between drivers and wildlife and save American lives.”
Types of projects funded
Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Dakota received grants to develop their statewide wildlife crossings plans.
Texas will receive funding for roadway underpasses to protect the endangered ocelot. Utah, too, will receive funds for underpasses, in its case to limit collisions with mule deer.
You can see the list of all the pilot grants here.
Lawmakers are excited too
Back in 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed with 69 YEAs in the Senate and 228 in the House. Members of Congress are clearly pleased to see the funding go to good use, especially when it’s in their states.
Glad to announce $24 million to prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions from our bipartisan infrastructure law! Arizonans driving along I-17 will enjoy safer travel thanks to our law’s real and life-saving results.https://t.co/7b1Up6TAGy
— Kyrsten Sinema (@SenatorSinema) December 4, 2023
And state lawmakers were pleased when their state proposals were selected.
Said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon: “Through the efforts of our agencies and the involvement of private sector partners and landowners, we’re able to create a safer transportation corridor that conserves our world-class wildlife along a critical migration.”
Will there be additional highway crossing dollars?
This first round of funding — the pilot programs — used up $110 million of $350 million made available in the infrastructure bill, which is to say that $240 million remains.
The enthusiasm from the states should indicate to Congress that more funding should be made available in transportation bills in the future.
After all, our country has a long history of investing heavily in roads. Now, we’re starting to invest in the wildlife crossings over and under roads that connect habitats and give wildlife more room to roam. It’s a smart move, and we’re excited to see the new projects that result from these funds.
Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America Research & Policy Center
Started on staff: 1991 B.A., Wartburg College Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.