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Do you have what it takes to design a wildlife bridge?

coyote.jpg
Center for Native Ecosystems
A coyote waits for the "walk" sign on Vail Pass.
Friend, do you consider yourself both gifted and green? Do coworkers refer to you, without a hint of mockery, as some kind of ecogenius?

Do you spend time wondering not why the doe crosses the road, but how the hell she doesn't get eviscerated doing it?

Are you the Da Vinci who can devise a high-country freeway crossing that's enticing to elk, bear and lynx, yet nondistracting to drivers? And if so, could you use forty grand and the naked envy of your peers?

Yes? Okay, bright thing, you have six weeks. Better get drafting.

The first-ever International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition kicks off this week. The challenge: to design a site-specific wildlife crossing for I-70 near the top of West Vail Pass, 90 miles west of Denver, one of the busiest and deadliest stretches of habitat-disrupting mayhem in North America.

As explained in my 2009 story "The Bridge to Somewhere," Colorado environmental activists have long considered the I-70 mountain corridor to be "the Berlin wall of wildlife," a barrier that interferes with migration of a wide variety of species, claims lives of endangered animals like lynx--and poses huge potential for deadly human-wildlife collisions.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is studying the idea of placing some sort of wildlife crossing on the west side of Vail Pass--probably a vegetative bridge, similar to those found in Banff National Park in Canada. The design competition, sponsored by a coalition of federal agencies, private foundations, and the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, takes that planning one step further down the road, so to speak.

Before you break out your biodegradable Big Chief tablets, be advised that design teams have to include licensed landscape architects and structural engineers to qualify--and be affiliated with at least one firm licensed in Colorado. Finalists in the juried competition will get $15,000 per team; the winning entry gets $40,000 and is considered "pre-qualified" by CDOT in any subsequent requests for proposal for such a bridge, assuming the state ultimately finds the millions needed to actually build the thing.

For more on the competition, go here.


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