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SUMMIT PARK, Summit County — Construction crews began installing the footings for the state’s first wildlife overpass, which transportation officials said should help animals safely cross I-80 at Parleys Summit and make driving conditions safer for motorists, too.
Construction for the wildlife bridge officially began in April, said Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason. It’s expected to be completed by the fall. It's a portion of a more than $20 million project that will include adding in a lane for slower semitrucks to travel in, a sound wall near Jeremy Ranch and wildlife fencing along the freeway.
While the state has many tunnels that allow animals to cross under freeways without going into traffic, the bridge will be the first overpass to allow wildlife to cross over a freeway in the state. The hope is it will help wildlife safely cross the freeway without creating traffic problems.
“It’s a really cool, unique aspect of this project,” Gleason said. “This is an area where we see a lot of great things you find living here in Utah. It’s a mountainous area and there’s a lot of wildlife out there.”
The bridge, which the department received $5 million in funding for, will be 50 feet wide and about 350 feet long. It will have natural rocks and boulders and renderings of it make it appear more like a natural extension of the surrounding land than a traditional roadway bridge.
The structures have been a growing trend across the continent, especially in areas near heavier wildlife populations. In 2017, Vox featured a bridge over the Trans-Canada Highway built in Banff National Park that helped grizzly bears cross the highway.
Wildlife officials there said it helped save the bears’ fragmented population because of the highway, the outlet reported. A 2008 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration found that animal-related crashes wasn’t a leading cause of deaths among motorists, but were costly for drivers.
Gleason said UDOT officials partnered with a Park City group, Save People Save Wildlife, in planning the bridge over I-80. He estimated “tens of thousands” of vehicles travel on the freeway in that area daily.
Officials hope the Parleys Summit bridge will be a win-win for motorists and animals.
“Our goal is to make sure everyone is safe on our roads,” he said. “We want to cut down on the number of crashes we see in this area as a result of wildlife. We want to protect, first and foremost, everyone that’s driving on the roads, but nobody wants to see animals injured or killed either. This is really going to be a great thing for everyone in that area.”