Transportation bill keeps wildlife and motorists safe
Jul 04, 2012
July 4 - Holiday travel just got safer: Congress has approved a bill that helps prevent wildlife collisions on our highways - protecting drivers, passengers, and animals.
Congress has approved a two-year transportation bill that gives state and federal land managers the authority they need to protect drivers and passengers from wildlife collisions and prevent wildlife deaths on our highways.
Passage of the bill avoided a possible shutdown of some transportation programs. It has been sent to the President for signature. Our partners expressed enthusiasm in the other Washington, Wash. DC, while we celebrated here in Washington State. Why? This transportation bill makes our roadways safer for motorists and wildlife.
The legislation opens new avenues for potential funding of projects from the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project to safety improvements on Highway 97 in Okanogan County. Both highway projects benefit Washington's wildlife, from bears to deer to elk, and help connect habitat in important wildlife corridors.
The bill confirms the example and strong leadership already set by the Washington Department of Transportation, who have long worked to address safety and habitat connectivity (as set forth in Executive Order 1031).
Highlights in the bill show how it benefits wildlife and connectivity:
- A new program, Transportation Alternative (replacing the earlier, Transportation Enhancements program) continues to fund actions to "reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality or to restore and maintain connectivity among terrestrial or aquatic habitats.’’ The program will receive $800 million in federal fiscal year 2013, nationwide. For the portion reaching Washington state, half goes to local communities and priorities and the other half to the state for distribution to projects in a competitive process yet to be defined. For areas of high animal-vehicle collisions, this presents an opportunity to fund wildlife crossing structures, fencing, and signage.
- The definition of "Highway Safety Improvement Project" – and what projects qualify for funding – includes the "addition or retrofitting of structures or
other measures to eliminate or reduce crashes involving vehicles and wildlife." That's good news for wildlife crossing structures like those across Interstate 90, part of the I-90 Project.
- The Tribal Transportation Program directs that the use of funds could apply "to mitigate the damage to wildlife, aquatic organism
passage, habitat, and ecosystem connectivity, including the costs of constructing, maintaining, replacing, or removing culverts and bridges, as appropriate."
- The Federal Lands Transportation Program directed that the use of funds could apply "environmental mitigation in or adjacent to Federal land open to the public" including "to improve public safety and reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality while maintaining habitat connectivity; and to mitigate the damage to wildlife, aquatic organism passage, habitat, and ecosystem connectivity, including the costs of constructing, maintaining, replacing, or removing culverts and bridges, as appropriate."