Remember this time last year feeling the euphoria of passing the Safe Wildlife Crossings measure in the November 2019 Specific Purpose Excise Tax (SPET) ballot? After years of work, our community passed the measure with 79% of the vote (the second highest vote “For” on a single measure!).
Thanks to our partners at the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, and all the members of the Safe Wildlife Crossings Political Action Committee for their work over many years to accomplish this huge feat. Now, a year after receiving the SPET funding, the work of implementing Safe Wildlife Crossings and other safety measures is hard at work, and just beginning…
We’ve seen crossings on South HWY 89 between the Snake River Bridge and South Park Loop increasingly utilized by wildlife, providing safe movement for a multitude of species traveling between the Bridger-Teton National Forest and South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area.
These photos were captured by the WYDOT game cameras during the 2019/20 winter, which was the second full winter that these structures have been accessible for wildlife. When sharing these photos, Morgan Graham of the Teton Conservation District pointed out that the number of species using the underpasses on HWY 89 is increasing, which is consistent with observations from other wildlife crossing locations. We are excited to see a moose utilizing these underpasses as design and construction for an underpass at the 22/390 hotspot begins, which is known for moose-vehicle collisions.
The Snake River Bridge project, 22/390 in the Safe Wildlife Crossings Master Plan, is scheduled in WYDOT’s State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) for 2023 construction. Approximately $3 million of the SPET is allocated for the 22/390 project, with around $1.5 million in this fiscal year (20/21). This money only supplies partial funding to the project but allows Teton County to have an active role in the design, construction, and implementation, which is critical in order to construct the safest and most efficient structures for our wildlife. While the 22/390 project is the first “major” project planned for construction with SPET funding, a lot of work is going on toward smaller items, like signage, that could also potentially be funded with SPET in the nearer term.
The SPET funding allows Teton County a seat at the table for wildlife crossings and other safety measures incorporated into WYDOT plans, however, it is just one aspect of involvement. As Commissioner Propst recently explained, we still need community input to make our highways safer and accommodating for both humans and wildlife. WYDOT designates speed limits based on human uses and patterns, not with a wildlife lens. In a recent update, WYDOT said they do not support lowering the speed limit on 390. We don’t think this logic aligns with Teton County residents’ firsthand observations of the dangers wildlife face. And they’ve shown it doesn’t either – village road residents and wildlife supporters have already taken the issue into their own hands by funding extra Teton County Sheriff patrols on 390. Leading to the question, would oversight of the 22/390 project be more appropriate in the hands of the county?
With the 22/390 project not set for construction to begin until 2023, and the trend of human-wildlife vehicle collisions increasing or maintaining annually, we need short term safety measures implemented on our roadways – lower speed limits, using and varying locations of dynamic message signs, fixed radar speed signs, and proactive planning that prioritizes wildlife safety as much as human safety. The community responded strongly to support Safe Wildlife Crossings on the 2019 SPET ballot, we need to remain active in this process to ensure that our hard work and funding is used towards a community vision of safe roadways for all our community members, human and non-human alike.