Colorado Department of Transportation
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and prime contractor Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Co. will begin building new wildlife crossings this month on U.S. 160 near Chimney Rock National Monument and Lake Capote. The stretch of highway to receive the improvements is located approximately 13 miles west of Pagosa Springs and 37 miles east of Durango.
“Two years ago, Gov. [Jared] Polis directed Colorado state agencies to support and protect wildlife habitat and migratory routes, while also enhancing public safety,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “The wildlife mitigation features included in this project reflect CDOT’s commitment to incorporate ongoing consideration of big game migration into all levels of our planning and construction process that will enable safe wildlife passage and reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.”
In 2019, the governor signed an executive order (Conserving Colorado’s Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors) which ensures wildlife conservation efforts by several state agencies — the Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and CDOT.
“This project will span for two miles in an area that has been identified as a critical migratory corridor for both mule deer and elk,” explained Julie Constan, Southwest Regional transportation director. “Because this area sees an abundance of big game, wildlife-vehicle collisions make up more than 60 percent of crashes at this location. This $11.3 million project is expected to reduce those collisions by at least 80 percent.”
As part of the first phase of construction, additional road improvements will be made to the intersection of Colo. 151 at U.S. 160. Excavation work will widen and extend both the westbound passing lane and the left-turn acceleration lane beginning mid-March. Just west of the intersection, crews will then start excavating the first half of the wildlife underpass, also in the phase one schedule.
Erecting the wildlife overpass will take place in phase two, anticipated for later this summer. This will require night work and a full shutdown of U.S. 160 to facilitate the completion of the structure. Advance public notice will be given and the approximate duration for the nighttime activity is expected to be five nights from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Alternate routes are advised.
Other components to the project include the installation of an 8-foot-tall exclusion fence along both sides of U.S. 160 throughout the 2-mile stretch. Earthen escape ramps and deer guards will line the length of the fencing. Additionally, a large deer guard will be placed at the approach of Colo. 151 onto U.S. 160 to prevent deer from jumping into the highway corridor.
The development and cooperative financial backing for the wildlife crossings came out of efforts between federal and state agencies, academics, nonprofits, biologists and engineers who formed the Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance. The Southern Ute Tribe also provided additional support with critical Global Positioning System data that identified seasonal migration patterns and habitat in the area. The tribe also financially contributed $1.3 million toward the project. Other financial contributors include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.