Colorado's first wildlife bridge is proving to be a huge success. Saving the lives of both wildlife and motorists, the wildlife overpass on Highway 9 in Grand County was designed to reduce collisions on one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the state.
The multi-million dollar project is the first of its kind in Colorado. Cameras placed on the bridge show deer and a fox have already utilized the safe crossing. Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Michelle Cowardin told CBS, "Within days of it being completed we started having evidence of deer using the overpass on a daily basis."
The bridge is located on a deadly 10-mile stretch of Highway between Silverthorne and Kremmling. Nearly 600 car accidents and 16 fatalities have been reported during the last 20 years, with more than 500 animals killed on the road in the just the last decade.
Mike Ritschard is the spokesman for a local group known as Citizens for a Safer Highway 9 and knows firsthand how treacherous this section of road can be. Ritschard lost his parents in an automobile collision on Highway 9 thirty years ago. He told reporters he "always hoped this road would be improved. Never dreamed we would have this opportunity and now we do."
The overpass is part of a larger plan promoted in 2013, which would include five underpasses, two overpasses, fencing to corral wildlife to the safe crossing sites, and widening the road in certain areas. The price tag: a whopping $46 million.
To make matters worse, the Highway 9 crossing project was just one of more than 200 proposals competing for funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) program known as RAMP — Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships — designed to combine state and local money to fund desperately-needed road projects. The Highway 9 project would have to raise 20% of the $46 million in a matter of months to be considered.
A fundraising campaign started in May 2013 with the deadline of July 1 to hit the nearly $10 million needed. Kicking off the pool, $5 million was given by the wealthy owner of Blue Valley Ranch which borders the highway. The community then came together in full force, with more than 250 donors raising over one million dollars in 40 days.
As the final deadline approached, the community asked Grand County to contribute the remaining the $3 million to get the project off the ground. Citizens approached the commission, citing the need to protect residents, tourists and wildlife, along with the desire to have Grand be a model for the rest of the state
The Commission agreed to foot the bill, with one commissioner remarking this would not be an expense, but rather an investment in the future. Perry Handyside from Blue Valley Ranch commented, "The Grand County commissioners have provided the leadership for this project. We're in partnership with Grand County and CDOT [...] it's a worthy cause."
"Highway 9 has been the most dangerous highway as far as collision with wildlife, so this is a long overdue and very innovative project," said Cathy Connell, Commissioner of District 6 for Colorado Department of Transportation.
"This could not have been done with one agency, or completed with one group. It has taken multiple committees, businesses, agencies, to get a project this size completed," said Michelle Cowardin of Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
"This is the first overpass built in Colorado but I think the Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado Parks and Wildlife and even the public are looking at this and asking, 'Why aren't we doing more of these elsewhere in the state?'" Cowardin added.
Watch deer use the brand new crossing courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and CBS Denver:
The Mountain Lion Foundation is sending a thank you letter to five of the critical groups who made this historic wildlife overpass a reality. Not only have they made Highway 9 safer for people and wildlife, they have made Grand County, Colorado, a role model for the rest of the country.
What YOU Can Do
Contact your state's Department of Transportation and urge them to be mindful of wildlife issues. Encourage partnerships to build safe crossings on existing roads, and incorporate both fencing and crossings into construction plans for all new roads.
You can also thank the organizations and agencies involved in the Highway 9 crossing for their determination and success. CO Department of Transportation
4201 E. Arkansas Avenue
Denver CO 80222
Citizens for a Safer Hwy 9
P.O. Box 1342
Winter Park, CO 80482