News & Media

Helping moose across the highway

by Barb Sweet (The Telegram)
January 29, 2011

A group lobbying for safer highways says the provincial and federal governments should pay heed to results of an international design competition for highway wildlife crossings.

“It would be a win-win situation,” said Eugene Nippard, who heads the Save our People Action Committee, which is concerned about the ballooning number of moose-vehicle accidents on provincial highways.

ARC: The International Wildlife Crossing Structure Design Competition sought entries for a design to combat the problem of accidents involving black bears, cougars, bobcats, lynx, coyote, elk, deer and marten in Vail, Colo. But the competition was also aimed at solving ever-growing wildlife-vehicle accidents across the U.S. and Canada.

According to ARC, the resulting design has drawn the interest of Parks Canada, which has its own system of crossings in Banff, Alta.

But Nippard said there’s no reason the federal government can’t erect structures to keep the roads in the island’s two national parks — Terra Nova and Gros Morne — safer. Terra Nova has an estimated 1,000 moose and Gros Morne has 5,000.

Little done about moose

He said the province has done little to combat the moose problem on its highways, except cut brush and increase its awareness program since his group was formed almost two years ago.

“That’s only picking at the problem,” said Nippard, who lives in Grand Falls-Windsor.

“We have fought tooth and nail with the province to save lives in this province.”

Scientist Tony Clevenger, who has studied the results of wildlife crossings in Banff for about

15 years and came up with the ARC competition as a way of inspiring a cost-effective design, said cutting brush as the sole means of reducing wildlife accidents is archaic.

Surprised province not actively combatting problem

There are an estimated 700-800 moose-vehicle accidents here each year and a class-action lawsuit over the most serious has been launched by St. John’s lawyer Ches Crosbie against the provincial government.

Clevenger said in a telephone interview he was surprised this province hasn’t done more to combat the problem of moose on the highways, as other provinces like New Brunswick, Quebec, Alberta and some U.S. states have done out of concern for rising accidents. They combine overpasses and underpasses with fencing or just fencing.

His studies have shown accidents with elk — which have the most encounters with vehicles in Banff — have gone from 100 a year to a half-dozen as a result of the crossings and fencing. The mortality of large animals on the highways has been cut by 80 per cent.

“It was a slaughterhouse here,” Clevenger said.

“People here called it the meat maker.”

According to Parks Canada, 11 different species of large mammals used 30 wildlife crossings more than 220,000 times between the Banff National Park’s east gate and the British Columbia border since 1996. There are now 41 crossing structures along 75 kilometres of highway, six of them overpasses. The crossings are combined with fencing.

Clevenger said the cost of producing the Banff-style crossings was getting too high, but the competition has proven there are better and less expensive ways of doing things.

The winning ARC design came from HNTB Engineering. Clevenger, one of the jurors, said it is a simple design that can become a transportation standard.

Bridge engineer Ted Zoli of New York said his firm’s design is cost-effective. The structure that won the competition is designed to span a twinned highway and would cost $4 million USD, possibly half that for a two-lane highway. The pre-cast concrete overpass is landscaped to mimic natural wildlife habitat.

That price per structure includes a healthy budget for landscaping, said Zoli, technical director of bridges for his company.

The estimated cost of wildlife-vehicle crashes in the U.S. is $8 billion a year and Zoli said governments can’t afford to ignore the incidents, which have doubled in the last 15 years.

“We can’t be building major interstates in high quality habitat without some consideration of this problem with vehicles and animals,” Zoli said.

“It’s only getting worse. In my view, the problem has been studied enough.”

The goal of the competition was to supply an idea, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be built.

The ARC competition’s adviser is Nina-Marie Lister, a visiting professor of design at Harvard and associate professor at Ryerson’s School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Lister said the crossings provide the opportunity to protect people’s safety while satisfying concerns for wildlife habitat.

“You need a package of solutions,” she said.

And she said studies of existing crossings have conclusively demonstrated wildlife teach their young to use them.

“Sure they do,” said Nippard.