PAYSON AZ -- Nearly ten years ago, a multi-agency project began in Arizona to incorporate wildlife-friendly components in the expansion plans for State Route 260, in a stretch east of Payson. Now the project is being recognized for its revolutionary concept and design with the 2008 National Environmental Excellence Award for Environmental Stewardship from the National Association of Environmental Professionals.
A complex system of underpasses, wildlife fencing and a cutting-edge electric "wildlife crosswalk" were incorporated in roadway improvement design. The components aimed to reduce wildlife collisions along the increasingly busy stretch of road between Payson and Heber, by allowing wildlife populations to safely cross the roadway, reducing population isolation.
"The State Route 260 project represents a truly groundbreaking collaborative effort of multiple partners over many years. It really was a labor of love, so national recognition from the environmental community is a great reward," says Norris Dodd, the Arizona Game and Fish Department's lead biologist on the project. "Even better, the wildlife components we incorporated into the design are proving very effective for motorists and wildlife."
Population growth and the ever-expanding network of highways in Arizona have led to increasing wildlife-vehicle encounters on some of the state's most traveled routes. These collisions pose a risk to drivers and cost millions in property damage each year.
Since activating the crosswalk component two years ago, the wildlife-vehicle collision rate has dropped 92 percent along the affected stretch of highway. The crosswalk was the first-of-its-kind in Arizona. It uses thermal infrared cameras that send images to sophisticated software normally used by the military to find targets. The software determines if the object is large enough-such as an elk or deer-to be a risk to motorists. Once an animal is detected, the software sends signals to electronic warning signs placed in advance of the crosswalk in either direction, and to flashing warning signs at the crosswalk.
A 3-mile stretch of elk-proof fencing near the highway will funnel animals either to the crosswalk on the west end of the fence, or to the east, where there are underpasses.
In addition to Arizona Game and Fish, several partners - Arizona Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Tonto National Forest, and contractors ElectroBraid Fence, Inc. and AZTEC Engineering, Inc. - developed the crosswalk system to work in conjunction with previously constructed underpasses and bridges being used as part of the Arizona Department of Transportation's award-winning State Route 260 reconstruction project.
The award will be presented in March at the 2008 National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) conference to be held in California. The NAEP is a non-profit organization comprised of scientists and planning experts dedicated to the advancement of ethical environmental practices worldwide.
- from AZGFD