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Safe passage in the Okanogan

A proposal to create wildlife underpasses along a 1.5 mile stretch of Highway 97 will help mule deer cross and motorists drive more safely - and connect habitat for wildlife.

A community project to improve 1.5 miles of Hwy 97

Highway 97 is a major thoroughfare traveled by people and a key transportation corridor north-south through the valley. Thousands of Washington’s mule deer regularly travel in the Okanogan Valley, journeying between open lands, both public and private, to access habitat and good quality browse and habitat on either side of the valley.

See safepassage97.org

A deer road kill deer along Highway 97.
A deer road kill deer along Highway 97.

One of the places mule deer most often cross the Okanogan Valley is along a 1.5 mile stretch of Highway 97, from Riverside to Janis Bridge. In this narrow corridor, the combination of people driving at highway speeds and deer migrating results in a concentrated epidemic of road kills. Many deer and other wildlife never make it. Each year on average, 73 deer are killed in vehicle collisions along this stretch alone.

The high collision rate is dangerous - and costly to commuters and to wildlife. The estimated average price is $7,180 for each vehicle-deer collision. That figure includes vehicle repair costs, human injuries, towing, carcass removal and disposal, accident investigation, and the value of the deer.

Site of proposed underpass along Highway 97.
Site of proposed underpass along Highway 97.
Artist's rendition of Highway 97 underpass.
Artist's rendition of Highway 97 underpass.

Washington’s Department of Transportation is proposing to improve the Riverside–Janis Bridge section of Hwy 97 by adding one or two wildlife underpasses. Wildlife crossing structures allow movement without conflict. Crossings constructed under highways help wildlife safely cross under roads, preventing, on average, 85% of all deer-vehicle collisions.

Funneling deer to the underpasses is done by funneling structures, including fencing, boulders placed at fence ends, cattle guards, several deer “jump-outs,” and “foot-gates.” Each and every part of the proposed Hwy 97 project is subject to design coordination between WSDOT and local landowners. 

Highway 97 is part of the Okanogan Trails Scenic Byway. Mangled deer carcasses, bent fenders, and shaken or injured passengers are not a part of most people’s expected journey here.

Because of the high road kill, the savings from this 1.5 mile-stretch from Riverside to Janis Bridge adds up to over $445,000 a year. The value of deer saved and reduced collision costs are expected to offset construction costs in as little as two to three years.

A wildlife crossing for Riverside–Janis Bridge has strong support from local residents, businesses, and public agencies. The private landowners who manage and own land along this section are all willing to allow wildlife to move across their properties to access the underpasses. This project is a beneficial addition to protecting Highway 97’s outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, and recreational qualities. It’s a win-win for all concerned.

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