Colorado, I-70 Wildlife Bridge

State: Colorado
Region: Vail Pass

Interstate 70 is often called the Berlin Wall to Colorado’s wildlife, because it presents an almost impassable barrier to animals migrating between the southern and northern parts of the state. There are several points where wildlife can go under the highway, but they are not always located where animals traditionally cross. In addition, some species, notably lynx and moose, prefer to stay aboveground.

In 2006 Colorado Department of Transportation, with the help of Wilderness Workshop received a federal appropriation of $420,000 to perform preliminary engineering and environmental assessments of the West Vail Pass wildlife bridge in Central Colorado. The Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project led the effort to monitor which wildlife travel near the interstate, and locate the best place to cross. With that study complete, the project was moved to the design phase. In 2010, Rocky Mountain Wild worked with other organizations to challenge landscape architects, engineers, and ecologists to devise an ecologically more sensitive, cost-effective, and beautiful wildlife bridge. Of the 36 teams from nine countries that entered, a group of engineers and landscape architects from HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates in New York took the prize.

The I-70 Wildlife Crossing Project seeks to reconnect the rich habitat bisected by the highway. The Vail Pass location is a good fit because it is a choke point along a critical wildlife migration corridor (two reintroduced lynx have been killed by vehicles there in recent years), and reconnecting the habitat on both sides of the interstate will help ensure continued interbreeding and genetic diversity. Additionally, Forest Service property flanking the highway ensures that animal access to the bridge will never be cut off at this location. The hope is that an overpass in this high-profile location will create public support for many more structures throughout the state.

The big hurdle to constructing such a bridge, of course is money. A structure based on designs pioneered in Canada’s Banff National Park configured to span six lanes of I-70 could cost as much as $12million. Given the current government belt-tightening it is likely to be a while before we see that appropriation from Congress.