Wyoming’s Wildlife doesn’t fare well in TIGER grant applications
by Wyoming Department of Transportation
March 21, 2010
Last fall, the Wyoming Department of Transportation submitted four grant applications totaling $230.5 million, for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants offered by the US Department of Transportation, to help wildlife and motorists coexist peacefully and safely on Wyoming highways.
With only $1.5 billion available in TIGER funds, not every state was guaranteed a share of the money, and three of four project grants WYDOT applied for were denied. The criteria for the grants called for projects that included innovation, improving safety, partnerships with a wide range of participants, contribution to the nation’s economic competiveness, improving energy efficiency and benefitting the environment.
"I was very disappointed to learn that the Wildlife Connectivity or the Hoback Junction projects did not receive TIGER funding, but understand the nationwide competition for the limited TIGER funds. I appreciate the efforts of all involved in generating and supporting the WYDOT TIGER fund applications," WYDOT District No.3 District Engineer, John Eddins said.
The largest grant was for $100 million to build a statewide system of wildlife crossing underpasses and overpasses to reduce the number of animal-vehicle collisions on Interstate 80, US191 and US 189. The project includes plans to install 30 underpasses, 5 overpasses and provide 192 miles of additional deer fencing along the three routes where there are some of the heaviest deer, antelope and elk migration corridors in the nation.
On US 191, the project is located in the Trapper’s Point area west of Pinedale, where eight crossing structures and deer fencing would be installed between MP 103.2 and 115.1. Between 2004 and 2008, WYDOT personnel removed 1 moose, 28 pronghorn and 401 mule deer carcasses in this section.
On US 189, the project is located at the Dry Piney Creek area southeast of Pinedale; where10 crossing structures with deer fencing would be installed from MP 85.69 to 101.43 north of LaBarge. Between 2004 and 2008, WYDOT removed 1 moose, 1 pronghorn, 1 white-tailed deer and 349 mule deer carcasses from this road section.
The plans calls for the placement of an overpass and seven underpasses structures to be placed on US189 between I-80 and Kemmerer, along with 26 miles of deer fencing. Between 2004 and 2008, WYDOT removed 1 elk, 18 pronghorn and 238 mule deer carcasses from this road section.
On I80 between MP 18.56 and 25.23, six wildlife underpasses would be installed along with 10 miles of deer fencing. This project has the potential for improving the interchanges at the Bar Hat (MP 23.11) and Coal Road (MP21.75) on I80 with the placement of the wildlife underpasses. Between 2004 and 2008, WYDOT removed 3 elk, 3 moose and 80 mule deer carcasses from this road section.
Also on I80, two underpass structures would be placed in the Elk Mountain area and two underpass structures in the Wamsutter area. Between 2004 and 2008, WYDOT removed 1 black bear, 2 white-tailed deer, 6 moose, 32 antelope, 42 elk and 275 mule deer carcasses from these sections.
The risk to motorists is an important concern. Every year, about 1,800 collisions with wildlife are reported on the state’s highways, causing an average of 149 injuries and 2 deaths a year during the past decade. The number of animals killed is in the thousands, and unknown amounts of collisions go unreported each year.
Like the Nugget Canyon Mule Deer Underpass project, these projects have the potential of becoming models for other projects aimed at reducing the number of animal-vehicle collisions not only in Wyoming, but also across the nation.
Wildlife viewing and wildlife related activities are important to many of the visitors that come to Wyoming and is important to the economy for Wyoming. It is not only the safety of motorists that is a concern, but also to the economic benefits to the state, as Wyoming’s wildlife is a valuable resource. According to the Operating Policy used by the Wyoming Game & Fish Department that establishes the restitution dollar values for wildlife, antelope are valued at $3,000 each, White-tailed and mule deer at $4,000, Black bear at $5,000, Elk at $6,000, and moose at $7,500. Based on these figures, Wyoming loses an average of nearly $1.5 million annually in state revenue from just these six areas of highway because of vehicle-wildlife collisions.
The second grant WYDOT applied for was for a $30 million project to replace the bridge over the Snake River on US26/89, near the Hoback Junction, reconfigure the "Y" shaped intersection at Hoback Junction, complete other safety related enhancements, provide a transit stop and bicycle/pedestrian path that connects to the Jackson area pathway system.
The bridge over the Snake River was constructed in 1950 of concrete and steel, with the western span having a wooden support structure in an attempt to decrease the weight and avoid aggravating the existing landslide. The bridge has been showing more and more signs of aging over the past eight years and has required more frequent and costly maintenance repairs to keep it in service. The bridge is located in a seismically active area as well, leaving the bridge vulnerable to seismic events, as the bridge does not meet current seismic and safety standards.
The intersection at Hoback Junction has three legs, stemming from US 26/89 to the west, US 189/191 to the east and US 26/89/189/191 to the north. Limited sight distance, substandard curves, grade changes and the adjacent land uses all contribute to the intersection being deficient.
Because of the limited sight distance, approaching traffic does not have an adequate amount of time to make decisions on which way to turn, which is further hampered by the lack of turning lanes, creating a safety issue as traffic approaching the intersection is traveling at higher highway speeds.
The highway shoulders through the Junction are currently two feet wide or less, which is inadequate to accommodate emergency vehicles, stopped vehicles, bicyclists or pedestrian traffic. The current American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards call for a shoulder width of eight feet for this type of roadway and traffic volume.
Similar to other areas in Wyoming, the Hoback Junction has seen an increase in the Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT) volumes and the trend is expected to continue into 2026. In 1990, the western leg of the intersection had an AADT of 2,490 and traffic volumes have more than doubled in 2008 and by 2026, the AADT is projected to reach 6,290 vehicles. During the period of 2001 to 2005, the area had an average crash rate of 3.04, which is more than double the 2004 statewide average of 1.28 for similar types of highways.
The third grant application submitted was for $35.5 million to rebuild the last 6.5-mile segment of US26/287, known as the Rosie’s Ridge section, east of Grand Teton National Park, as part of a larger project that reconstructs approximately 38 miles between Dubois and Moran Junction. This area is renowned for its beauty, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities and provides for the economic health for Dubois and Jackson, as well as the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
It has been more than 50 years since the roadway was last updated, and the project will provided a number of motorist safety features such as 8-foot shoulders for bicyclists, hikers and emergency stopping, passing lanes and will address landslide areas.
The only grant that was partially funded was for $6 million of the $65 million requested to reconstruct the last 7-mile section of the Beartooth Highway on US 212 that leads to Yellowstone National Park. In this segment of the project, three bridges will be replaced and two others added to improve the alignment of the highway. The travel lanes will be widened from 8-foot to 12-foot, 3-foot shoulders added for bicyclists and hikers, three parking areas, two interpretive sites and one new trail and improve the water drainage from the highway.
While WYDOT is grateful for the funds they received for the Beartooth Highway project, without the federal funds for the other projects, WYDOT simply does not have the funds to complete them, which is a loss for the state’s economy.
"Given state and federal highway funding six year projections, the money is not available to finish design and construct the Wildlife Connectivity projects. Thus, WYDOT has put on hold, design efforts for the Wildlife Connectivity projects with the exception of the Trappers Point project. Our plan is to continue with design and tasks needed to get the Trappers Point project ready to go to construction and continue to look for other funding options for the project. If other organizations that have Trapper’s Point as a priority would form a partnership for funding, it would definitely help," Eddins said.
The projects all address substantial safety concerns for both wildlife and motorists, and would provide for the creation of jobs and have a positive impact on the state’s economy. Wyoming’s highways cross the migration routes of some of the nation’s largest wildlife herds and since many of those routes are in natural gas fields, the completion of these projects would have reduced conflicts with energy development and production, which also improves the state’s economic competitiveness.