It’s not snow nor drowsy driving nor even cell phone use that makes Interstate 80 from Parley’s Summit to the Jeremy Ranch exit one of the most treacherous stretches of freeway in Utah. It’s wildlife. For decades, countless deer, elk, and moose have died attempting to cross this busy stretch of highway. And the carnage hasn’t been limited to animals, of course; several people have been injured in collisions there with big game as well. “Both sides of the highway are really good wildlife habitat,” explains Matt Howard, a Utah state wildlife biologist. “In deep snow, they’ve got to migrate to lower elevations to access food.”
An ambitious attempt to mitigate vehicle/wildlife conflict along this dangerous section of I-80 will commence in early 2018 when the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) begins construction of a $5 million overpass—the first built in Utah expressly for wildlife. Last year, UDOT matched $50,000 raised by the Park City–based conservation group Save People, Save Wildlife to build high fences on both sides of the highway that will funnel wildlife to the overpass.
UDOT has built several wildlife underpasses at other migration points along freeways elsewhere in the state. Deer use them, but elk and moose won’t, says Howard. But all three species—even mountain lions and bears—will cross on overpasses, provided they’re properly designed and built. This overpass, to be constructed just west of Parley’s Summit, will be 345 feet long and 45 feet wide and will be left bare, so, according to UDOT spokesman John Montoya, “animals will have a clear view to the other side and will, hopefully, be more likely to use it.”