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Montana State University releases reports on wildlife crossing structures

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A wildlife crossing overpass near Banff in Alberta, Canada. PHOTO BY TONY CLEVENGER

The reports are part of a multi-state and Canadian effort to summarize science, economics of the structures


Montana State University released 14 reports as part of a $1.2 million project to identify cost-effective solutions to animal-vehicle collisions that support habitat connectivity and wildlife conservation, the university announced Monday.

The research was led by MSU’s Western Transportation Institute. The WTI is part of another study—the US-191 Wildlife & Transportation Assessment—that addresses wildlife-vehicle collisions on U.S. Highway 191 that’s slated to be released later this spring. The WTI is one of the nation’s largest transportation institutes focused on rural transportation issues.

The report released Monday involves transportation departments in Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ontario, Oregon and Washington, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada Agency, according to the release announcing the study. The project was funded by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and ARC Solutions, an international organization promoting wildlife crossing structures.

“This is the most comprehensive analysis yet of what’s working and how we can make it better,” David Kack, director of WTI, stated in the release. “This study will help guide state departments of transportation and other partners as they look for ways to improve our roadways while also benefitting the habitat around them.”

WTI researchers Rob Ament, Matthew Bell, Damon Fick and Marcel Huijser authored a report focused on the potential for advanced polymer materials to make crossing structures. Their research suggests that structures made of fiber-reinforced polymers, recycled plastics and bio-based materials could make the structures more customizable, more affordable and longer-lasting compared to traditional steel and concrete construction, the release states.

“We took a hard look at this material and what it’s capable of,” Bell said. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity, and that as it starts being used in wildlife crossing structures, the benefits will show themselves.”

As part of that research project, the WTI team worked with the California Department of Transportation to analyze the potential for a polymer-based structure to help elk and other animals cross U.S. Highway 97 in northern California. They designed a wildlife overpass with fiber-reinforced polymer girders and concrete reinforcement and used recycled plastic beams for sound and light barriers, wildlife fencing and structures that allow wildlife to exit the roadway.

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