Advanced Planning and Design Mitigation Safety Models for Wildlife Highway Impacts

Focus Area

Wildlife & Ecosystems


Natural Resources






2-3 years

Research Idea Scope


(1) Objectives.  The objective of our proposed scope of research is to research and develop professional activities aimed at incorporating wildlife mitigation into standardized federal and state highway planning and design procedures.  These activities would be aimed primarily at transportation officials, natural resource managers and other professionals responsible for highway mitigation and safety.  The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) will take the lead, in consultation with FHWA – Federal Lands Highways (FHWA-FLH) and other partners, in researching, developing and executing activities to demonstrate the effectiveness of wildlife mitigation, encourage its use to protect wildlife and connect habitats, and spur innovations in wildlife crossing and mitigation designs.  As a result of these activities, WTI would develop a set of model federal and state highway planning and design rules prescribing baseline standards for considering wildlife mitigation, including wildlife crossing structures, as a routine part of any new or upgraded road construction to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions while providing for habitat connectivity.  

(2)   Key Tasks. Based on preliminary research, key tasks include:  

a.       research, develop, and disseminate one or more electronic and hard copy reports and associated materials demonstrating the effectiveness of wildlife mitigation;

b.      develop and install a traveling or permanent exhibit featuring the models and other materials from the 2010 ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition, which resulted in the selection of five, world-class, interdisciplinary advanced concept designs for a wildlife crossing structure at Colorado’s West Vail Pass along Interstate Highway 70 (more information on ARC and the competition is available at;

c.       develop and carry out one or more professionally-focused training courses, educational presentations and outreach initiatives;

d.      develop a set of model highway planning and design rules prescribing baseline standards for considering wildlife mitigation as a routine part of any new or upgraded road construction; and

e.       other activities, as identified during further research.

Urgency and Payoff

Wildlife-vehicle collisions cause human fatalities, injuries, property damage, and pose safety and maintenance challenges for departments of transportation.  A 2007 study, requested by Congress pursuant to the SAFETEA-LU Act, estimated that one to two million collisions between cars and large animals occur every year in the United States.  Even though the overall number of collisions has leveled off at around 6 million per year (1990-2004), the relative percentage of collisions due to animals has increased.  Specifically, wildlife-vehicle collisions have increased by 50% in the past fifteen years, from fewer than 200,000 per year in 1990 to approximately 300,000 in 2004 – about 5% of all reported motor vehicle collisions.  An estimated 200 people die and 26,000 people are injured each year in the U.S. due to wildlife-vehicle collisions, and the total annual cost of wildlife-vehicle collisions is estimated to exceed $8 billion (Huijser et al. 2007).  

Although providing wildlife passage across highways saves lives, animals, and money, wildlife mitigation is often viewed today as an extraneous attribute to the transportation corridor that is employed only when budgets are robust.  By working to ensure that wildlife mitigation is incorporated into standardized federal and state highway planning and design procedures, the anticipated payoff would be a win-win opportunity to save money while significantly reducing the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions, resulting in improved road safety for Americans and wildlife.  

Suggested By

Roger W. Surdahl, PE; Federal Highway Administration, CFLHD 720-963-3768

[email protected]