Letters: Wildlife overpass needed on S.R. 224 near McPolin Farm Opinion | November 13, 2019

Letters: Wildlife overpass needed on S.R. 224 near McPolin Farm

Wildlife overpass needed on S.R. 224

I am joining many other concerned citizens to voice safety concerns regarding travel along the dangerous S.R. 224 to and from Park City.

The facts are that there has been a 201% increase in Park City’s population since 1980 with no provision for wildlife mitigation on S.R. 224. Studies have concluded that the area between mile markers 7 and 9 is one of the top hot spots within Utah for vehicle and wildlife collisions. Since safety is a top priority for UDOT, then now is the time to act as it is reported that over 17,000 people commute to Park City daily for work that do not reside within the city limits. Summit County is a popular destination for recreation enthusiasts year-round and keeping the flow of unharmed motorists, cyclists and wildlife moving through this natural migration corridor safely should be a top priority. The recent attempts at lowering the speed limit and placing digital signs have not been effective and the speed limit is hardly being enforced. We need to provide a permanent solution for safe passage for both motorists and wildlife.

We advocate for a wildlife overpass on S.R. 224 across from the McPolin Barn area that will provide increased motorist safety. During a previous 13-year study in the state of Utah, it was reported that the cost per wildlife collision fatality is approximately $5.380 million and over 14 accidents/wildlife collision fatalities were reported. Clearly this wildlife overpass would pay for itself with just one accident avoided and save people’s lives! It is an opportunity to create a beautiful welcome to visitors at the gateway into Park City. What would be more memorable: a herd of elk crossing over S.R. 224 on the wildlife overpass as you drive into town, or animal carcasses left dead and strewn along the highway?

Thank you for your immediate attention. Let’s work together as a community to protect all who travel here.

Mile of wildlife fencing added along Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch News | November 27, 2019

Mile of wildlife fencing added along Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch

Wildlife fencing extends into the distance between Kilby Road, left, and Interstate 80 on right, as seen from the Ecker Hill park and ride. Save People Save Wildlife is a volunteer group that has raised $42,000 to install wildlife fencing. Its leaders say its goal is to eventually extend and close the gaps in fencing all the way to the US 40/I80 interchange near the Home Depot in Silver Creek.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Ralph Hottinger has lived in Hidden Cove for more than 50 years, a relocation inspired in part by the Park City area’s nature and wildlife.

But as the years went on and traffic increased on nearby Interstate 80, Hottinger said he’d see more and more accidents between vehicles and animals. It got so bad that animals started to avoid the area, he said.

After a wildlife overpass and wildlife fencing was installed in the area, Hottinger said the animals are coming back and vehicle strikes are declining.

He’s the president of a group called Save People Save Wildlife that advocated for those measures and has been raising funds to install more wildlife fencing along the corridor.

Last week, installation finished on the latest mile of fencing, which is near the Jeremy Ranch roundabout project. Fencing now extends a half-mile east of Jeremy Ranch on the north side of the interstate and a little farther on the south side, near the Ecker Hill park-and-ride.

The group’s vice president, Lorelei Combs, said the plan is to extend the fencing eastward to the U.S. 40/Interstate 80 interchange near Silver Creek.

“Wildlife fencing starts where Home Depot is on U.S. 40 and goes to Heber,” Combs said. “It’s about a 9-mile gap we’re trying to eventually close up.”

The group’s short-term goal is to extend fencing eastward to Kimball Junction, which would take about 3.5 miles of fencing, Combs said.

She said Summit Park is essentially the gateway coming into Park City, and animals follow the existing fence line looking for a place to cross the interstate.

“If that fenceline is not completely closed, they cross, (and) there’s an onslaught of vehicle collisions,” she said. “It’s a natural migration path.”

S.R. 224 is another common area for animal collisions, Combs said, shown to be one of the worst in the state in an upcoming report commissioned by the Utah Department of Transportation. The group is advocating for a wildlife bridge across S.R. 224 that she estimated would cost around $10 million.

“We believe it has to happen,” she said. “There needs to be something done — animals are going to die, it could cause a fatality.”

She said an elk herd crosses S.R. 224 to reach its winter grounds, resulting in dicey situations nearly every day in certain periods.

“Ever year, it’s an onslaught of dead elk,” she said.

One mile of fencing costs around $85,000, but Combs pointed to a 2008 University of Utah study commissioned by UDOT that estimated each wildlife/vehicle accident that results in a human fatality costs $5.4 million in vehicle damages and personal injury costs.

She said Save People Save Wildlife has a cost-sharing relationship with UDOT for wildlife fencing where the agency will pitch in half the project costs if it has enough left over at the end of the year in its contingency fund. But the state has no dedicated funding for wildlife fencing, Combs said, and UDOT is only able to include the cost in certain projects.

Save People Save Wildlife has been able to raise $42,000 for its half of the project costs for the latest fencing along Interstate 80 and is continuing to raise funds.

The group’s representatives have attended Summit County Council meetings a few times in recent weeks to request funding for the project.

While councilors did not commit to an ongoing budget item, wildlife fencing and cattle guards were included in the Jeremy Ranch roundabout project, public works director Derrick Radke told the council in early November. UDOT paid for the cattle guards on the westbound on-ramp while Summit County paid for those on the eastbound on-ramp.

The group is advocating for Park City and Summit County elected officials to take action.

“At the rate we’re going right now, (with UDOT matching funds), it would take us 20 years to close that gap,” Combs said. “Without the help of Summit County, it’s going to take a long time.”

The county also paid for about a half-mile of fencing near the Ecker Hill park-and-ride.

KPCW: Wildlife Group Asks County For More Protection For Animals Along Highways

Wildlife Group Asks County For More Protection For Animals Along Highways

  NOV 26, 2019

         

With the Summit County Council only a few weeks away from approving their 2020 budget, the group Save People Save Wildlife is asking them to fund increased animal fencing along the highways in the Snyderville Basin.

           While the group is  asking for a significant chunk of change, they say it is worth it for the safety benefits—or to avoid the costs of not doing something to mitigate vehicle-wildlife collisions.   

Tom Farkas, from the Save Wildlife group, appeared before the County Council November 20th, to suggest that they add some $1.94 million to the budget.

He said for that cost, they could extend the current wildlife fencing and other items  along Interstate 80, running from the Jeremy Ranch area eastward along the Interstate to about half a mile from Silver Creek Junction.    Fencing could also be extended along both sides of U.S. 40 to the Silver Summit Interchange.

“You’re talking about fencing on both sides.  So it’s about 12.75 miles of fencing that needs to be installed.   And then of course to complete the protection, you need to have cattle guards at the on and off ramps at each of those interchanges.  So we’ve estimated the cost of the fencing at $1.1 million, and the cattle guards at .84.  So that’s where you get the $1.94 in for the cost.”

Farkas, and Erin Ferguson, also from Save People Save Wildlife, said the cost would be worth it.   They cited data from UDOT on the costs of a human fatality in collisions with animals.

“They’ve shown that the cost of one vehicle/wildlife fatality accident is $5.35 million dollars.  (Ferguson) And that’s when the motorist loses their life.  (Farkas) Yeh, this particular report doesn’t even include the cost of the wildlife.  It’s just the person.  So if we could spend $1.94 million to save $5.38 million, that’s a benefit/cost ratio of at least 2.7—which, I think, in most government agencies, as long as they can clear a cost/benefit ration of 1, it’s doable.”

Farkas said it would take too long if their group, or UDOT, has to come up with the funding for mitigation.

“It would take, just between Save People Save Wildlife raising money, and UDOT coming up with some discretionary funds at the end of each year—it would take over 20 years to complete the gaps that we’re talking about.”

The County Council is due to approve their 2020 budget in a little more than two weeks.   Farkas said they will ask the County is they can shift some funding from items that may not be as urgent, or cannot show the same cost/benefit ratio.

“Instead of spending maybe, and I think there was some discussion about a beautification project at the Jeremy Ranch roundabouts.  I’m all for that, but maybe the fencing ought to be done before the beautification, because having dead wildlife on the side of the road is hardly enhancing the beauty of Summit County.”

He said this is their priority, although later on, would like to address other highways in the area.

“We’re not saying that work doesn’t need to be done on other highways, like 224 or 248.  But this is where we’ve started.  My analogy is if we don’t complete fencing on 80 and up to 40, it’s like spending the money to build an energy-efficient home and then leaving your door open.  It’s just not effective.”

Speaking of Highway 224,  Ferguson said they’re running regular newspaper ads to promote a petition, in favor of a wildlife overpass on the roadway, at the entry to Park City near the iconic McPolin Barn.    She said it would cost somewhere between $10-15 million and  would be designed as a greenway.

“And we want to have an aesthetic gateway to Park City proper.   So it’s not going to be—in our vision, we don’t want to have a cement, blocky bridge-like urban interface in the middle of this beautiful scenic space.  And I think, if you have that added to the landscape, you have the already-set-aside space and historic features like the barn.   I mean, it’s—I think it would only add to that, and then, I would much rather see wildlife crossing the bridge at dawn, than waiting in traffic because elk have been killed on the highway.”

Erin Ferguson and Tom Farkas from Save People Save Wildlife, who said to sign the petition, you can go online to “change.org.”

Wildlife Group Welcomes Speed Limit On 224, Considers More

UDOT recently decided to reduce the speed limit along a stretch of Highway 224.    And members of the group Save People Save Wildlife say that’s good news for the safety of both motorists and wildlife crossingthe highway.

But they want to see additional measures taken for wildlife mitigation.

UDOT recently announced they were reducing the speed  from 55 MPH to 45, on a two-mile stretch of 224, including the entryway by the McPolin Farm into Park City.

Figures show that there have been 100 vehicle-wildlife collisions in that area in the last ten years—70 of those in the past five years.

Lorelai Coombs and Erin Ferguson from Save People Save Wildlife said that since 1980, the population in the Park City area has increased over 200 percent, but there’s been no provision for wildlife mitigation on a highway that the state now sees as a priority.

Ferguson said the lower speed limit is a good start.

“The wildlife still have to cross with traffic.  So I think slowing people down, making them take a moment to look around, pay attention, enjoy the scenery—I mean, it’s a beautiful corridor.  And then if we can get, continue with the community support to get wildlife mitigation implemented sooner rather than later, that reduced speed limit along with wildlife mitigation implementation will just complete the package.”

They added that while locals know  to watch out for wildlife, tourists visiting Park City are not as aware.

We asked if the underpass near McPolin Farm can be used as an animal crossing.    Ferguson said that would work for some animals, but not others.

“There’s a predominant elk herd there—probably a 100 head of elk that cross back and forth on a daily basis there.   They’re very very hesitant to use an underpass.  They’re very scared.   They’re a very nervous species.   So y’know deer they have little to no discretion.  They’ll go over, under through.   But the elk are very hesitant to do that.  They’re more inclined to use an overpass.   So that’s what Save People Save Wildlife is leaning towards promoting as an option for them to cross safely.”

They hope  the state would consider a 224 overpass that would not only be safe but attractive.

“We want to do a more aesthetically-pleasing one, such as the ones along the Trans-Canyon Highway, like in Banff National Park in Canada, where there’s rock work, landscaping—a really nice gateway to Park City.”

They said  the surveillance footage of the I-80 overpass at Summit Park has already shown that it’s a success.    Ferguson talked about the animals that have shown up on camera,

“All kinds of species—marmots, raccoons, coyotes, bears, cougars, deer, elk.   Y’know, they were, thought, “Y’know, it’s gonna take a couple of years for the wildlife to realize that the bridge is actually there and a means to cross back and forth.   Within a few weeks, they were using it.  So, it’s very exciting.”

Erin Ferguson and Lorelai Coombs from Save People Save Wildlife who added that this Monday, October 28th, work is starting to continue wildlife fencing along Interstate 80—this portion running from Kimball Junction to the Jeremy Ranch Interchange.