MSU releases reports as part of major project on wildlife crossing structures
BOZEMAN — As part of a multi-state and Canadian research effort involving the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, more than a dozen new reports summarizing the latest science and economics of structures designed to reduce animal-vehicle collisions are now available online.
The Western Transportation Institute was the research lead of the Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reduction and Habitat Connectivity Pooled Fund Study, a $1.2 million project involving more than a dozen partners in the U.S. and Canada. The project’s 14 reports identify cost-effective solutions that integrate highway safety and mobility with wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity.
The other partners on the study were transportation departments in Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ontario, Oregon and Washington as well as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada Agency. The project was supported by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and ARC Solutions, an international organization promoting wildlife crossing structures. The Montana Department of Transportation, which has been a longtime partner with WTI on wildlife crossing research, provided research sites and other support for the work.
‘This is the most comprehensive analysis yet of what’s working and how we can make it better,” said David Kack, director of WTI. “This study will help guide state departments of transportation and other partners as they look for ways to improve our roadways while also benefitting the habitat around them.”
Kack said the study comes at an important time. The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 will allocate $350 million over five years to fund a pilot wildlife crossing program in the U.S. which will build on the success of several wildlife crossing structures around North America —typically bridges or tunnels that allow animals such as elk and bears to safely cross above or under a highway.
The pooled fund study was managed by the Nevada Department of Transportation, with WTI leading the research component comprising more than half the project scope. WTI’s Marcel Huijser served as principal investigator and led a cost-benefit analysis of various crossing structures and related measures such as signage and fencing along roadways, played a part in several of the reports.
WTI researchers Rob Ament, Matthew Bell, Damon Fick and Marcel Huijser also authored a report focused on the potential for advanced polymer materials to make crossing structures, “Improving Connectivity: Innovative Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Structures for Wildlife, Bicyclists, and/or Pedestrians.” According to the researchers, manufacturing crossing structures out of fiber-reinforced polymers, recycled plastics and bio-based materials could make the structures more customizable, more affordable and longer-lasting compared to traditional steel and concrete construction.
“We took a hard look at this material and what it’s capable of,” said Bell. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity, and that as it starts being used in wildlife crossing structures, the benefits will show themselves.”
For the report, Bell and the rest of the WTI team worked with the California Department of Transportation to analyze the potential for a polymer-based structure at a site where it could help elk and other animals cross U.S. Highway 97 in northern California.
The researchers designed a wildlife overpass with fiber-reinforced polymer girders and concrete reinforcement and used recycled plastic beams for sound and light barriers, wildlife fencing and structures that allow wildlife to exit the roadway.
“The construction method would be almost identical to using concrete and steel, but we estimate that the structure would last longer and be easier to maintain, which is a big consideration for departments of transportation when they have to budget for additional infrastructure,” Bell said.
As the research lead, WTI maintains the webpage to house the final reports and other resources including project presentations, webinar recordings and peer reviewed journal articles resulting from the research as they become available. For more information on the project and to access the reports and other products, visit http://tpf-5-358-wvc-study.org.
WTI is one of the nation’s largest transportation institutes focused on rural transportation issues. It has twice been designated as a National University Transportation Center by the federal Transportation Department. WTI has conducted transportation research at local, state and federal levels in 35 states and in 22 countries around the world.