By Deb Courson Smith, Big Sky Connection

BOZEMAN – Commuting in Montana sometimes feels like a zoo, with the state’s abundant wildlife traveling along, and over, roads. Recognizing the dangers for people and animals, the new federal transportation bill signed by President Obama over the July 7 weekend grants state and federal agencies, along with tribes, funding to retrofit roads to prevent collisions.

Rob Ament, road ecology program director at the Western Transportation Institute in Bozeman, says there are several solutions to pursue.

“Wildlife underpasses, animal depiction systems that warn drivers that animals might be on the road, to invest more to protect motorists from large wildlife.”

The Federal Highway Administration recently filed a wildlife-vehicle collision report with Congress, documenting a 50 percent increase in collisions over the last 15 years. The report estimates there are up to two million such collisions each year, which rarely end well for the animals, and sometimes result in human fatalities.

Ament says all those crashes are expensive, too, with damages totaling more than $6 billion a year nationwide. He praises the new transportation bill for addressing the problem.

“So it’s taking into consideration the safety of motorists with wildlife-vehicle collisions, and the need for roads not to disrupt wildlife movement.”

He says the bill also allows for structures to protect small animals and reptiles, such as pipes or tubes under roadways.