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SALT LAKE CITY — Chances are either you or somebody you know has hit a deer, or some other wildlife out on the highway in Utah. If not, you've probably had close calls.
Cars collide with deer out on Utah roads about 2,000 times a year. The Utah Department of Transportation and the state's Division of Wildlife Resources have worked on solutions for years, and some of the recent work is paying off for all of us.
"We don't want anybody to get hurt," UDOT environmental engineer Brandon Weston said Monday. "We value our wildlife resources, and we want people to get where they're going in a safe manner."
If a crash with big game doesn't kill you, it likely will cost you. Run into a deer, and damages average more than $8,000; an elk will cost twice that.
"We started by installing some wildlife fencing to keep wildlife off the I-80 corridor itself," Weston said.
Along I-80, the fences corral animals to the existing underpass which doesn't have a lot of traffic. Elsewhere, UDOT built culverts and bridges especially for the wildlife. They monitor them with motion detection cameras.
Along with the fencing that directs the big game into the underpasses and bridges, UDOT is also using Electromats. When the wildlife approach the electrified mat, they sniff it, don't like the electricity, and head to the underpass just 100 yards away.
In the first year of monitoring, more than 800 mule deer used the I-80 passage. Near the junction of I-70 and I-15, more than 3,000 mule deer pass through each year.
And they've cut crashes between wildlife and automobiles by more than 90 percent.
"I think this is just the beginning of that partnership, coming together and starting to put in projects that are starting to make a difference," Weston said. "And as we show that we can provide a value for public investment, I think we'll keep going."
UDOT and the DWR will continue to look for areas where wildlife collisions are high, and try to build a safe passage to help all of us.