Highway 82 slowing for wildlife

Crossing mountain highways should be a little safer for wildlife thanks to a new Colorado law.
Troy Hooper

Surrounded by sponsors Rep. Kathleen Curry  and Sen. Gail Schwartz, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed Wildlife Crossing Zones Traffic Safety Bill, or HB 1238, into law at Vail's Donovan Pavilion in June.

The law requires drivers to slow down or risk doubled fines in zones where wildlife cross highways, much like construction zones. Up to 100 miles of highway across the state can be designated for lowered nighttime speeds, plus there will be designated Wildlife Corridors where speeds aren't lowered.

Wildlife Crossing Zones were recently selected and Highway 82 in the Roaring Fork Valley made the cut. Where the zone will be set up is still in the works, but signage could arrive as soon as next month.

"It literally brings tears to my eyes to think of all the human and animal lives this will save over the years and the suffering this bill has the potential to prevent," said Frosty Merriott, the Carbondale town trustee who initiated the legislative effort. “Passing this bill was truly a team effort and I am so grateful for the hard work and perseverance shown by Representative Curry and Senator Schwartz.”

Each year in the United States, there are 725,000 to 1.5 million animal-vehicle crashes, resulting in more than 200 human deaths and more than $8 billion in costs, according to Defenders of Wildlife, which, along with the Western Environmental Law Center, TransWild Alliance and Center for Native Ecosystems, advocated for the legislation."The high rate of collisions with wildlife is costing Colorado lives and dollars," said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village who sponsored the new law. "Certain times of the year, on specific sections of roads, we know wildlife are likely to cross. Now we will mark [them] with better signs and adjust speeds to protect drivers and wildlife, and avoid these dangerous collisions."

Wildlife Crossing Zones and Wildlife Corridors will be seasonal, most likely from September to March. Wildlife Crossing Zones will only be on stretches of highway where the existing speed limit is 65 mph. At night, the selected zones will require motorists to slow down to no faster than 55 mph. Wildlife Corridors, meanwhile, will not change the speed limit or include enforcement — officials say they are being set up as a pilot program to see whether motorists can simply slow down on their own.

Deer, bears, coyotes, foxes and mountain lions are among the animals routinely killed by cars in Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado Division of Wildlife also selected Colorado Highway 9, Colorado Highway 13, Colorado Highway 24, U.S. 36, U.S. 40, U.S. 50, U.S. 160 and U.S. 550