NJ highway planners make way for wildlife


My colleague Jan Hefler has proved me wrong about PennDot.

I have long railed against the agency for appearing to ignore animals in its highway planning.. Now I learn, thanks to Jan, that indeed there have been accomodations made for animals in several highway construction projects.

The focus of Jan's piece in the Inquirer this weekend was a project on the Atlantic City Expressway aimed at protecting deer and other wildlife trying to cross a highway that carries 53 million vehicles a year.

Fences guide the animals away from the highway and into four culverts beneath it.

To gauge the program's success, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to install motion-triggered cameras next month to see if endangered tree frogs, rare northern pine snakes, and the more common foxes, raccoons, and opossums are using the passageways located near the Frank S. Farley Rest Stop in Hammonton.

This is not the first animal control effort on a New Jersey highway. A wildlife-overpass carries animals from a wildlife reservation over busy I-78 in Union County, New Jersey and a tunnel - pictured above - allows bobcats, bear and possums to travel under I-80 in North Jersey

Now I learn that PennDot has in fact built animal crossings as part of the $48.7 million Marshalls Creek bypass near the Poconos and also along the new I-99 near State College.

Kudos to highway engineers on those two projects.

But my beef is that :PennDot ignores animals when planning routine upgrades. For instance when a new interchange was built near a heavy deer crossing along Route 15 in Dillsburg. A flimsy wire fence was erected on each side of the highway that was not even four feet high and deer - including recently a fawn - continue to be scraped off the road on a regular basis.

Why engineers could not have increased the fence height to prevent deer from entering the highway or funnel them into the Yellow Breeches stream valley below I don't know.

In addition, Pennsylvania is a liberal user of Jersey barriers. Those concrete walls that divide highways are animal killers. I see the effects on the Camp Hill bypass nearly every morning on my way to work - opossums and raccoons who tried to cross the road, lying dead by the barrier, unable to climb it and forced back into traffic.

Would a barrier be less safe with a few holes poked in for animals? Or why not use metal barriers that allow animals to pass through?

PennDot's environmental policy chief Gary Fawver told the Inquirer the state began to addressing wildlife crossings over the past decade as a way to help animals and protect drivers. (Pennsylvania has the highest rate of deer-car collisions in the nation according to annual State Farm surveys.)

Fawver said PennDot has also positioned cameras at the animal crossings and discovered the animals like the pathways.

"The evidence shows that within a relatively short time, the animals were utilizing them," Fawver said. "There was little hesitancy."