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Ambitious Wyo big game underpass plan takes hit

Ambitious Wyo big game underpass plan takes hit

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GREEN RIVER -- The feds took a pass on funding more deer underpasses in southwest Wyoming last week, state officials said.

The denial of the state's application for $100 million in federal economic stimulus funding has derailed, at least for the time being, an ambitious plan to build 30 or more of the wildlife-friendly underpasses in some of the heaviest deer, elk and antelope migration corridors in Wyoming.

The structures are specifically designed for migrating big game in an effort to reduce animal-vehicle collisions.

Each year, about 1,800 motor vehicle collisions with wildlife are reported on Wyoming highways, causing an average of 149 injuries and two deaths annually, according to Wyoming Department of Transportation data.

To combat the problem, state highway and wildlife officials recently installed big game underpass structures on two busy stretches of highway -- U.S. Highway 30 in Nugget Canyon west of Kemmerer and Highway 789 north of Baggs.

WYDOT webcams are showing the wildlife underpasses have been successful, moving thousands of deer, elk and antelope safely across the highways.

The agency wanted to follow the success of those projects with the construction of approximately 30 additional underpasses along some of the region's other big game migration corridors.

Last fall, WYDOT officials submitted four grant applications totaling $230 million for federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funding.

One of the grants asked for $100 million for the Wildlife Connectivity underpass projects.

WYDOT public relations specialist Theresa Herbin said three of the four project grants the agency applied for were denied, including the underpass project.

The grant criteria called for projects that included innovation, improving safety, partnerships with a wide range of participants, contribution to the nation's economic competitiveness, improving energy efficiency and benefiting the environment.

"I was very disappointed to learn the Wildlife Connectivity ... did not receive TIGER funding, but understand the nationwide competition for the limited funds," WYDOT District Engineer John Eddins said in a media release.

The agency's plans call for the installation of 30 underpasses, five overpasses and approximately 192 miles of additional deer fencing along various routes.

Routes include:

-- the Trapper's Point area west of Pinedale on U.S. 191, where eight crossing structures and deer fencing would be installed;

-- the Dry Piney Creek area southeast of Pinedale on U.S. 189, to include 10 crossing structures with deer fencing;

-- the area on U.S. 189 between Interstate 80 and Kemmerer, where an overpass and seven underpasses would be constructed.

The agency also has plans to install 10 underpasses at several sites along I-80, including the Elk Mountain area and between Wamsutter and Rawlins.

State officials said they had hoped the projects could become models for other projects across the country that aim to reduce animal-vehicle collisions.

But without federal funds, the agency does not have the money to complete the underpass projects at this time.

Contact southwest Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino at (307) 875-5359 or gearino@tribcsp.com

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