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Proposed wildlife crossing in Southern Oregon seeks federal funding

A computer generated mock-up of a wildlife crossing. A bridge covered in trees passes over two separate roads.
Oregon Department of Transportation
A computer mock-up of the proposed wildlife crossing. It's being designed to minimize interaction between animals and the highway.

A proposed wildlife crossing over I-5 in Southern Oregon would be the first over one of the nation’s busiest freeways. State transit officials are seeking federal infrastructure funding to build the crossing.

A crossing near the Oregon/California border would help keep deer, elk and other wildlife from becoming roadkill on the side of the interstate.

This section of road essentially splits up major wild areas, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, leading to an increased number of wildlife encounters.

The Oregon Department of Transportation reported that along with over a hundred collisions with deer, at least five bears and one cougar were hit along the stretch from Ashland to the California Border between 2016 and 2020.

A data map showing the density of collisions with wildlife along I-5 between Ashland and the California border
Oregon Department of Transportation
A map showing the density of collisions with wildlife on I-5 between Ashland the the California border from 2016 through 2020.

Their reporting doesn’t include the many small animals, like raccoons, squirrels, skunks and more that go unreported.

A coalition of nonprofits and government agencies have been working to design and build an overpass near the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, where animals are more likely to cross the highway.

The wildlife overpass would be designed in a way that animals wouldn’t even know they’re crossing over a highway, shielded from lights, vibration and views of traffic. Fencing would also be installed on either side to guide animals towards the crossing.

Amy Amrhein is one of the coalition's coordinators. She said ODOT is asking for $20 million from a new federal wildlife crossing pilot program, adding around $115 million is available for this year.

“So we have asked for a big chunk of that money, but we are cautiously optimistic that Oregon has a very viable project on an interstate in a national monument with high levels of wildlife-vehicle collisions,” Amrhein said.

Out of eight potential sites, Amrhein said they’ve narrowed it down to the best one for a wildlife overpass, called Mariposa Preserve. She said that’s the most likely spot for an overpass because it would bridge two sections of federal land, and the site is fairly straight.

ODOT is currently in the design and engineering phase of the project. The agency received $1.5 million in state funding for the design, which comes from a $7 million fund approved by the state legislature.

Amrhein said along with a wildlife overpass, her group is looking at potential places to improve two existing underpasses to create more places for wildlife to cross, located at Niel Creek and the Mt. Ashland exit.

“Both can be improved, and we have recommendations for ODOT to – for much less cost – improve those underpass locations so they’re a little bit more accessible and attractive to wildlife to get them off the side roads,” said Amrhein.

She said adding additional safe crossings is needed, because this is a 14-mile section of highway. It would be difficult to convince animals to walk miles to use the bridge overpass, Amrhein said.

The group is expecting the federal funding to be announced early next year. If their funding is approved, construction could begin in 2025 or 2026.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.