$18 million for Safe Passage 97 included in transportation package, but no agreement reached on funding during 2021 legislative session
Conservation Northwest / May 05, 2021 / Cascades to Rockies, Legislation, Okanogan Working for Wildlife, Sagelands, Wildlife Crossings
Inclusion of full funding for Okanogan Valley wildlife crossings in the Forward Washington transportation projects spending package is a huge accomplishment, but with state lawmakers failing to reach agreement on how to fund the full package this session, work remains for our Safe Passage 97 project.
For years we’ve worked with local, state and tribal partners to end the needless loss of life on Highway 97 in north-central Washington’s Okanogan Valley, including the more than 350 deer hit and killed by cars each year in a 12.5 mile stretch of roadway between Tonasket and Riverside.
Our work has included the Okanogan Wildlife Crossing Campaign to fund and construct the first, private phase of the Safe Passage 97 project, including the Janis Bridge wildlife undercrossing and first mile of fencing completed in August 2020, as well as coordinating with lawmakers and budget leaders to request state funding for the remaining 11 miles.
The good news is that our message got through to the Transportation Committees this past session. This project garnered widespread bipartisan support for its public safety and wildlife benefits, thanks to our demonstration at Janis Bridge and the nearly 21,000 messages that local supporters and more than 1,300 Washingtonians sent to legislators.
Watch videos of wildlife using the Janis Bridge Wildlife Undercrossing, and supportive testimonials from local residents on youtube
Unfortunately, while the Washington State Legislature passed a modest two-year Transportation Budget during the 2021 sesssion, they did not resolve disagreements around how to raise revenue for the 16-year Forward Washington transportation projects spending package, including $18 million for wildlife crossings in the Okanogan Valley through our Safe Passage 97 project.
“So many people have contributed to, and hope for, the completion of 11 more miles of deer fencing and wildlife underpasses on Highway 97,” says Jay Kehne, Safe Passage 97 project manager and Conservation Northwest’s Sagelands Program Lead based in Omak.
“Without agreement from the state for a transportation projects spending package including Safe Passage 97, countless deer/vehicle collisions will continue to occur, with lives at stake. We are too close to doing something really positive for a rural community in eastern Washington to let it slip away.”
Conservation Northwest staff and contractors are continuing to work with legislative champions to ensure this project remains a priority as elected officials continue discussions around how to fund critical transportation projects. A special session may be convened this summer specifically to address this issue. We’ll keep you posted!
The Safe Passage 97 project is a collaboration between Conservation Northwest, the Okanogan Trails Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, WSDOT, the Colville Confederated Tribes and other state, local and national partners.
State Senator Shelly Short and Representatives Joel Kretz and Jacquelin Maycumber of north-central Washington’s 7th District formally requested state funding for the project. The Colville Confederated Tribes, Okanogan County, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Spokane Audubon and many others have previously submitted letters of support to the legislature.
The Safe Passage 97 project is a rare opportunity to bring about tangible solutions to protect both people and wildlife in north-central Washington, while supporting local transportation infrastructure and construction jobs. While we’ve faced challenges securing state funding, we’re not giving up on that goal.