State funding still needed to save lives on Highway 97, local legislators submit budget requests

State funding still needed to save lives on Highway 97, local legislators submit budget requests

Conservation Northwest / Feb 13, 2020 / Connecting Habitat, Legislation, Wildlife Crossings

A two-phased approach to a total of $17.54 million for wildlife crossings and fencing will prevent more than 244 vehicle-deer collisions per year in the Okanogan Valley.

Download our lobbying one-pager as a PDF or IMAGES OF WILDLIFE USING JANIS BRIDGE CROSSING.

Between Riverside and Tonasket in north-central Washington more than 350 vehicle-deer collisions occur every year in just 12.5 miles of Highway 97. With other local partners agencies and tribes, we’ve been working to address this needless loss of life through the Safe Passage 97 project.

Three mule deer does crossing safely under Janis Bridge.

Medical costs, car repairs, Washington State Patrol and Sheriff’s Department response, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) clean-up crews, and the value of the deer all add up to approximately $6,500 per accident, costing the public more than $2.5 million every year.

Using $260,000 in funds donated by concerned citizens around the state, in 2019 Conservation Northwest, the Mule Deer Foundation and the Colville Confederated Tribes began to address this urgent issue—renovating Janis Bridge to serve as a wildlife undercrossing and installing the first mile of deer fencing along Highway 97 south of the bridge to the intersection with Highway 7.

Already, hundreds of animals have used the new undercrossing to avoid dangerous collisions with motorists, including mule deer, cougars, bobcats and other species. But state funding is needed to complete the Safe Passage 97 project.

A mule deer doe hit and killed on Highway 97 near Carter Mountain Wildlife Area.            Photo: Jay Kehne

This solution has broad local and regional support, and needs to be continued another 11 miles to reduce accidents and the loss of animal life.

Using pre-design scoping documents prepared by WSDOT, phase one with public funding would continue fencing, necessary cattle-guards, gates, deer escapes and three wildlife underpasses to complete another 4.25 miles of protected highway south to Crumbacher Road.

$8.76 million is needed from the state to complete this phase of the project, which is expected to prevent more than 139 vehicle-deer collisions per year.

The next phase of the project (phase two with public funding) would extend an additional 4.3 miles from South Crumbacher Road to just north of the town of Riverside, including three more wildlife undercrossings and fencing. This phase is expected to cost $8.81 million, and would prevent an additional 105 vehicle deer collisions per year.

We’re currently working with state legislators and budget leaders to be certain they’re aware of this need, and are planning to include funds for the Safe Passage 97 project in the 2021 Transportation Budget. A Transportation Budget is not expected to be passed during the current 2020 Supplemental Session of the Washington State Legislature.

Representatives Joel Kretz and Jacquelin Maycumber of north-central Washington’s 7th District formally requested funding for the Safe Passage 97 project on February 10th, 2020. The Colville Confederated Tribes, Okanogan County, National Wildlife Federation and others have previously submitted letters of support to the legislature.

We’ll be sure to keep project supporters updated as Phase one wraps up and opportunities arise for phases two and three, including in the state legislature. Together, we can make safer passage on Highway 97 a reality!

A concerned community

Map of project area.      Click for larger version.

Okanogan County citizens, WSDOT, Conservation Northwest, the Okanogan Trails Mule Deer Foundation Chapter and others are looking for a solution to reduce animal-vehicle collisions along Highway 97. The stretch of highway between Riverside and Tonasket is an important north-south commuting route and freight corridor. This area is also an important travel route and habitat for mule deer. The combination of vehicles and deer results in an epidemic of roadkill and vehicular accidents.

Washington state has adopted Target Zero—a goal to reduce human fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by the year 2030. Their goal is zero deaths and serious injuries, because every life counts.

Going Under

Currently, the Washington State Department of Transportation proposes that the most effective way to reduce deer-vehicle collisions in this high-collision highway segment is through the construction of roadside fencing with associated undercrossings. Fencing at some level may be necessary to direct wildlife to these new undercrossing, but will be included based on monitoring.

Together, we can make safer passage on Highway 97 a reality. LEARN MORE ON OUR WEBPAGE.

*Estimate Source: Washington State Department of Transportation, all estimates are approximate.
**Deer estimated at 3x the amount hit and removed by WSDOT