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NEWS
VDOT Study Highlights Animal Passageways
April 25, 2005

If you want to know how the deer crossed the road, ask Virginia Transportation Research Center (VTRC) scientist Bridget Donaldson. She should know because she has spent nearly a year researching animal passageways and how they are used in a study on animals and motorist safety. Donaldson will release a final report on her research later this year. VTRC is a joint partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the University of Virginia established in 1948.

Each year, about 200 people die in animal-related car crashes out of the nearly 44,000 traffic fatalities in the United States. Approximately 247,000 crashes involved animals in 2000, the latest data available, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Donaldson is evaluating seven underpass structures throughout Virginia to determine the extent of use by deer and other wildlife, the structural and environmental features that might influence their use, and their effectiveness in reducing deer-vehicle accidents. She receives data from remote digital cameras that capture images based on infrared heat and motion sensors.

Preliminary results show nearly 1,000 deer crossings at three of the sites (deer do not use the other four) and more than 1,000 crossings of smaller mammals (raccoons, opossums, coyotes, groundhogs, cats, and even squirrels). The most popular deer crossings are a large box culvert in Fairfax County, designed specifically as a wildlife crossing, and another box culvert near Charlottesville beneath I-64.

“Money spent on wildlife crossings may seem an unnecessary addition to construction costs,” Donaldson says. “However, the savings associated with reduced human injury, mortality, and vehicular damage as a result of effective wildlife crossings can offset the cost of crossing installations. While many successful crossing structures cost less than $200,000, studies have estimated the cost of a single human traffic fatality at more than $3 million in lost income, medical costs, and property damage.”


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