DOUGLAS COUNTY — A major investment in protecting Colorado wildlife from deadly encounters with vehicles is in action along the I-25 Gap project. 28 miles of deer fencing, 19 deer guards, 60 game ramps all work to direct animals to five major wildlife underpasses.
In years leading up to the Gap project hundreds of animals a year were dying trying to cross the 18 mile stretch of I-25 between the El Paso County northern border and the town of Castle Rock. "Elk, deer, we had a moose hit here two years ago, mountain lion, we've had 18 black bears hit there in the last three years," said Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) I-25 Environmental Corridor Manager, Chuck Attardo.
The corridor which links Colorado’s two largest metro areas is a contrast of two different Colorado realties. A modern busy interstate, slicing through open space prime for Colorado’s legacy wildlife. Andy Hough the Environmental Resource Coordinator for Douglas County leads efforts to find harmony between the two. "Trying to find the balance of maintaining the natural resources that we have in the county, in juxtaposition with the increased growth and urbanization has been a challenge."
The design phase for improving safety and adding lanes for the Gap improvement project also included Coordination between CDOT design engineers and wildlife scientists with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). CDOT’s goal for safety overlaps with CPW’s goal of protecting wildlife. Keeping wildlife safely off roads also protects drivers from collisions and injury.
A $20 million dollar investment is now one of the most substantial and complex wildlife mitigation systems on Colorado’s Front Range. The large underpasses are an essential element of the design. "These are some of the largest underpasses specifically for wildlife, not only in Colorado, but North America,” said CPW Land Use Coordinator, Brandon Marette. 100 feet wide and 15 feet tall provides space and a clear view to either side of I-25. A broad site path puts animals like deer and elk at ease. “They can see there’s no predators in the way, “ said Marette. It increases the odd they will use the underpass, rather than redirecting and trying and cross lanes of traffic.
The wildlife mitigation portion of the Gap project is mostly complete. There is video evidence of it already working. Cameras set up by CPW researchers have captured bears, deer, elk and many other smaller animals safely getting from one side of I-25 to the other through the underpasses.
The number of animal car encounters on the stretch is expected to drop dramatically. "At the very least 90%," said Marette. The $20 million investment is recouped with lives saved, injuries avoided, and damage to vehicles prevented.