Besides money for roads, bridges and airports, a large federal infrastructure bill signed last fall included $350 million for projects that make it easier for animals to cross highways.
Now a wildlife advocacy group is recommending the best places in North Carolina to make changes to help everything from elk to box turtles avoid being hit by cars.
The Wildlands Network used several criteria to identify hotspots, including the number of traffic accidents, wildlife, road characteristics, proximity to land habitats, and protected wildlife. Starting with 179 sites, the group then narrowed the field with the help of wildlife experts to what it considers the 20 highest priority crossings where the animals could use some help.
Most of the sites are in rural areas, from the mountains through the Piedmont and Sandhills to near the coast. But two are in the triangle, in Durham and Orange.
Building wildlife crossings can be expensive, and North Carolina will compete with other states for federal grants, said Ron Sutherland, chief scientist at Wildlands Network, a national group of people based in Asheville and Durham.
“This means that North Carolina needs to be strategic about investing in transit projects that will have the greatest impact on wildlife and traveler safety,” Sutherland said in a written statement. “So, the question of the moment is: Where do we need the Wildlife Trail crossings in North Carolina? This report is our answer to that question.“
Wildlife collisions are costly to humans as well as animals. NC . Department of Transportation 56,868 animal crashes counted statewide From 2017 through 2019, this resulted in an estimated loss of $157 million, five deaths, and 2,857 people-to-people injuries.
And that number does not include the unreported collisions that kill countless small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Two priority crossings in the triangle
The Wildlands Network has identified six priority sites in the Blue Ridge Mountains, six in the Coastal Plain and four each in Sandhills and Piedmont. Five of the sites include highways, while many of the remaining sites are on state and federal highways near national forests, wildlife refuges, and state lands. There is one on US 19 where it intersects with the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In the Triangle, the group recommends crossing Interstate 85 in eastern Orange County, which runs through a wildlife corridor between Ino River State Park and Duke Forest.
“I-85 and US 70 form a semi-permeable barrier across this corridor that connects Lake Jordan to the south and Lake Falls to the north, both of which have extensive protected forests,” the group wrote. “This area has been plagued by wildlife vehicle collisions caused by white-tailed deer.”
The location of the second triangle on his priority list is where NC 54 crosses the New Hope stream in southwest County Durham. The group says the road creates a barrier for bobcats, turkeys, deer, river otters and turtles traversing the hardwood surrounding the creek.
NCDOT has not decided where it will place the new wildlife crossings under the federal program. NCDOT spokesperson Jimmy Kretzer said the US Department of Transportation has not yet begun to seek grant applications.
“Once they do, we intend to apply for funds to build wildlife crossings in North Carolina,” Kretzer wrote in an email. “The call for projects will determine what kind of projects are eligible, and this will give us a better idea of what we will be seeking.”
Wildlife crossings come in many forms
There are many strategies to help animals avoid hitting cars. They include tunnels or arches of various sizes under a road as well as bridges designed specifically to give animals safe passage. Usually a special fence is built nearby to direct the animals towards the crossings.
In Graham County, where the Appalachian Trail crosses NC 143 at Stecoah Gap, NCDOT plans to land bridge constructionPlanted plants to transport hikers and wildlife on the road.
This summer, NCDOT is working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups, Complete a small tunnel under a state highway In the northwest corner of the state are snakes, frogs, and small animals. The concrete tunnel has a grated metal surface to let in sunlight and connects the two parts of the wetland that are divided by the road.
Sometimes engineers consider the needs of animals when designing road bridges. In 2005, NCDOT built a higher and longer U.S. 15-501 alternative bridge over New Hope Creek in Durham to provide more space for wildlife, especially creek-following deer. (NC 54 is located in the Wildlands Network report a few miles downstream.)
This year, the state completed a new bridge to carry I-40 over Cold Springs Creek and Harmon Den Road near the Tennessee State Line. The bridge was the length of the bridge being replaced but redesigned to include more space for animals to follow the creek down the highway.
NCDOT will also build new 9-foot fences to guide bear, deer, elk and other wildlife toward the bridge opening.