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Wildlife crossing bill passes New York State legislature

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A sign shows an image of what the finished Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing would look like during a ground breaking ceremony in April. Construction has begun on what’s billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing for mountain lions and other animals caught in Southern California’s urban sprawl. Officials held a ceremony Friday to mark the construction of a $90 million bridge over the 101 freeway and feeder road near downtown Los Angeles.

State lawmakers can’t get pedestrians to use crosswalks to cross roads safely. Maybe they’ll have better luck with wildlife.

Both the state Senate and Assembly have approved legislation (A.4243B/S.4198-B) that will require the state Transportation Department and state Thruway Authority to identify sites along all highways, thruways and parkways in the state where wildlife crossings are most needed to increase public safety and protect wildlife. State agencies will also be required to create a priority list of wildlife crossing opportunity areas so that, if federal grant money is available, the state has five projects identified to be included in a grant application.

“This bill would require the Department of Transportation in the New York State Thruway Authority to identify and update annually 10 Highway Wildlife Crossing priority locations to improve wildlife habitat connectivity, reduce Wildlife vehicle collisions and increase public safety for New York state motorists,” said Assemblyman Robert Carroll, D-Brooklyn. Carroll sponsored the bill in the Assembly.

A.4243/S..4198 has had a lengthy history over the past couple of years. It passed the Senate in 2023 but wasn’t approved in the Senate. IT was then amended before passing the Senate on May 8 and then the Assembly on May 13 with only nine votes against it. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted for the bill – but not before making a joke on the Assembly floor.

“I have a certain sympathy for this bill,” Goodell said. “Because driving home from an Assembly session several years ago I totaled my car when a deer failed to recognize that I had the right of way. My car, by the way, only had 342,000 miles on it but it had new tires. I was so disappointed and I was particularly disappointed because it occurred on I-86 where they’re supposed to be fencing the entire length of the expressway. Presumably they thought the grass was greener on the other side.”

The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 established a $350 million wildlife crossing safety program to be spent over five years on bridges, tunnels, culverts, fencing, and other infrastructure that will allow wildlife safe passage either under or over roads. The federal government is making $60 million a year available — the largest single federal allotment to animal crossings.

The Associated Press reported in November 2021 that advances in GPS technology, such as collars affixed to deer, have made it possible to map animal migration routes with more accuracy, which has also led to solutions beyond road signs, such as fencing or highway crossings dedicated to wildlife, that can reduce collisions by 80%.

Construction began in April 2022, according to the Associated Press, on a $90 million wildlife crossing bridge for mountain lions and other animals over a freeway and feeder road that is about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The bridge will stretch 200 feet (61 meters) over U.S. 101 to give big cats, coyotes, deer and other wildlife a safe path to the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. It is expected to be completed by early 2025 and will be named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing for the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million.

Two years after its original introduction, Goodell said he supports the idea of wildlife crossings – as long as deer follow the new signs.

“As I mentioned I’m sympathetic to providing a safe means of crossing,” Goodell said. “I hate running into deer on my way home from Albany or even on the way here, for that matter. If we can add 10 more deer crossings and get them to follow our signage so that they don’t get in front of us, I think it’ll probably be a positive thing. I certainly encourage efforts to maximize our chance to apply for federal grants. God knows we can use our help from our federal government and I’m glad they’re recognizing the danger of these animals as well.”



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