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Wildlife mitigation project will create features to protect wildlife, drivers in southwest Colorado

Artistic rendition of wildlife overpass and underpass on U.S. Highway 160
Posted at 8:06 AM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 16:45:59-05

ARCHULETA COUNTY, Colo. — A new wildlife mitigation project in southwest Colorado will create multiple features to help keep both wildlife and drivers safe along a stretch of U.S. Highway 160.

Construction is set to begin in the spring of 2021and finish by the fall.

The project will come to life thanks to a partnership between Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Department of Transportation, the Southern Ute Indian tribe and several organizations.

The new features will span about two miles on U.S. 160 between mile points 126 and 128, near Lake Capote and Chimney Rock National Monument. This is between Durango and Pagosa Springs.

The project includes:

  • Construction of a wildlife underpass structure west of the U.S. 160 and CO 151 intersection (at mile point 126.8)
  • Construction of a wildlife overpass structure just east of the U.S. 160 and CO 151 intersection (at mile point 127.3)
  • Installation of an 8-foot-tall exclusion fence along both sides of U.S. 160 throughout the project limits (approximately a two-mile stretch between mile points 126 and 128)
  • Construction of earthen escape ramps and deer guards along the length of fencing
  • Installation of a large deer guard on CO 151 at the approach to U.S. 160 (similar to a cattle guard but much wider)
  • Extension of the existing westbound passing lane on U.S. 160 at the CO 151 intersection
  • Extension of the westbound left-turn acceleration lane on U.S. 160 at the CO 151 intersection

Scott Wait, senior biologist for CPW, said the stretch of highway is heavily used by drivers, but is also an important area in the San Juan Basin for big game.

“Deer and elk spend the warm months in the high country to the north, but most big game move to the important winter range areas south of the highway during the winter," he said. "So there is a huge number of deer and elk that cross the highway at that location.”

In this stretch of highway, more than 60% of all crashes involve wildlife, CPW said. This has been an increasing trend since 2012 and is expected to continue on that trajectory without intervention.

The features included in this new project are expected to reduce those kinds of crashes by at least 85%, according to CPW.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is a critical partner, CPW said, and provided important biological information, including seasonal migration patterns, to help officials design the project.

“Hunting is an extremely important component to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and culture and it is considered vital to keep these traditions alive," said Steve Whiteman, acting director of Natural Resources. "The Tribe has long maintained a positive working relationship with the state of Colorado, and looks forward to the collaboration with CPW and CDOT to bring this important project into reality.”

The project will cost approximately $11.3 million, including design and planning, according to CPW. The following groups have contributed to it:

  • $8.6 million from CDOT
  • $1.3 million from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe
  • $750,000 from CPW
  • $317,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • $100,000 from Mule Deer Foundation (via a private donor)
  • $75,000 from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Co. of Utah is managing the project.

CDOT has built more than 60 wildlife mitigation structures that cross above or under highways throughout Colorado.