If you drive far enough on a West Virginia road, chances are you’re going to see a roadkill or two.
The Mountain State has a richly deserved reputation for animal-automobile mayhem. Every year for at least the past decade or so, ol’ Wild and Wunnerful has topped the State Farm Insurance Co. rankings for auto damage due to animal collisions.
Not surprisingly, State Farm announces those rankings about a week before the whitetail rut, the time of year when deer pay more attention to sex than they do to vehicle traffic. News outlets report the state’s latest ranking, and sometimes they even urge motorists to be extra-vigilant as they drive through deer country.
In West Virginia, of course, that’s almost everywhere.
Roadkill isn’t just a problem in our little corner of the Appalachians. For example, the high number of car-critter collisions caused one 13-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in Utah came to be dubbed “Slaughter Row.”
Small wonder. In one 2-year span, that single stretch of highway accounted for the deaths of 122 deer, 13 moose, four elk and three mountain lions.
Ouch. I’m presuming at least some of the deer were mule deer, which cause more damage because they tend to have larger and heavier bodies than white-tailed deer. Ditto elk, which weigh three- to four-times more than a whitetail; and moose, which can weigh six- to seven-times more.
After years of trying to lessen the mayhem on that dangerous stretch of Utah road, highway officials appear to have come up with a winner: an overpass built solely for wildlife to use.
Built in 2018, it’s already getting lots of use from deer, elk, moose and black bears. Wildlife officials are a bit surprised by that, because they figured it would take animals several years to begin using it.
To make it critter-friendly, engineers covered it with gravel instead of pavement, and they scattered rocks and logs along it to make it seem a bit more natural. They also put high wrought-iron fencing on the sides to keep animals from jumping or falling onto the highway below.
Other wildlife corridors, in the U.S. and in Canada, have been covered with dirt and planted with grasses, trees and shrubs.
At one such overpass in Colorado, collisions involving wildlife have dropped by 90%.
Wildlife overpasses (and underpasses, in which animals pass under highways through large culverts) are effective, and they help mitigate the impact highways have on wildlife. The main drawback is cost.
Roads in West Virginia often cost several million dollars per mile to construct. A concrete-and-steel wildlife overpass could easily tack another million onto a road’s price tag. Even a large culvert could run $100,000 or more.
Even so, there are places in the Mountain State where wildlife overpasses would benefit animals and motorists alike. U.S. 119 near the Logan-Mingo county line is a prime example. That’s elk country. A collision with an elk can total a car.
The new four-lane section of U.S. 35, still under construction, would also benefit from a crossing or two. The area along the Putnam-Mason county line is particularly deer-rich, and is notorious for deer-vehicle accidents along the existing two-lane stretch of that road.
West Virginia doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on highway construction as a whole, let alone on wildlife crossings. But one or two, strategically placed, surely justify such expense.