Can a Wildlife Bridge Fix America's $8 Billion Roadkill Problem?

Balmori Associates' proposal to build cheap animal-crossing structures over highways could relieve some of the burden.

We all know that roadkill is a tragic corollary of car culture. What you might not know is that it's also mega-expensive. Vehicle-animal collisions cost Americans a whopping $8 billion a year (download a PDF here).

Design can help. Balmori Associates, a New York City landscape design firm, proposes building simple, inexpensive wooden bridges over highways, then covering them in native vegetation to create a sort of wildlife crosswalk. Each bridge would be so wide and the greenery so diverse, it'd appear like an extension of the forest, and animals, the thinking goes, would be less inclined to go galloping across roads helter skelter, resulting in fewer accidents (and a slimmer cleaning bill).

Balmori came up with the idea for the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition, which bills itself as the "first-ever international design competition... intended to solve the problem of ensuring safe travel for humans and wildlife." The contest ends in January, when one of five design teams is selected to build a bridge over West Vail Pass in Colorado.

ARC expects the winning design to serve as a model for other parts of the country (clearly, the only way to make a dent in that $8 billion figure is to repeat the idea elsewhere). To that end, Balmori's bridge isn't specific to Vail. "It is a kit of parts," the press materials say, "that can be applied and adapted to various conditions and sites."

The main thrust is to keep the bridge as low-tech as possible so it can be constructed easily anywhere in the United States without disrupting the road or the natural environment. By using cheap native wood — beetle-killed blue pine, in the case of Colorado — you can create a simple structure that actually stores more CO2 than it needs for production; no heavy machinery required. What's more, much of the bridge can be prefabricated, then assembled on site, cutting back on the hours construction interferes with traffic.

Balmori is up against some pretty stiff competition, including Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, which recently nabbed a commission to spruce up the area around the St. Louis Arch, and Olin Studio, the Philadelphia firm charged with redesigning the courtyard of the Metropolitan Museum. Check back on Co. in January for the winner.

[Images courtesy of Balmori Associates]

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  • ThisIsCool

    I like it; there are over 600 of these in the Netherlands
    today. DeShaunSanders, Hunters would not be allowed to target these
    areas, if they did the animals are not as stupid as most think. They would shy
    away from the bridges if human presence is felt. I would imagine steep fines
    and/or jail time could be involved for doing so. The only concern I would have
    is that I cannot believe for one second that the wood is going to last very
    long. Like ROBKNOWS said, it would be in contact with moisture with no way to
    dry. They would be rebuilding these bridges constantly. Gay Republican, I’m
    with you on the siding… Ben, animals are not stupid. They would definitely
    prefer a bridge that was covered in what they consider their natural
    surroundings. They don’t just wander onto highways. Its more on purpose than
    you know. Deer have been known to use car bridges to cross highways already.
    Making one out of trees and dirt would just make it easier for them.

  • Ben

     I dont get it. Unless the animals randomly stumble into the bridge by luck, then how in the heck will they even know a bridge is there? A stupid deer could look right at the bridge and still choose to run right into traffic. Whats next? Will they make signs near the road for the animals to read so they know its there??

  • DeShaunSanders

    Good idea in theory.  But you put something like that here in Georgia, just about every "good ole boy" within 50 miles would be hiding behind trees on either side with a shotgun, trying to pick off easy game.

  • Robknows

    How much will it cost to maintain these wooden bridges that will be in constant contact with moist soil? How do you plan to keep the wood from rotting as a tree in a forest would do?

  • Gay Republican

    According to this they don't have a plan for that as they claim to plan on using natural wood. Treated wood is falsely vilified by environmentalists. Consider the chemicals in your vinyl sided home hippies, then come talk to me about my cca treated wood.

  • Alan Kimpell

    A similar bridge was built a few years ago north of Missoula, MT on highway 93 south of Arlee, MT - it would be of interest if some one could find what if any effect it has had on roadkill in the area.

  • Suzanne LaBarre

    Steven, the innovation here is doing it on the cheap with minimal environmental disruption -- not easy.

  • Craig

    There are quite a few nature overpasses in Europe including the Natuurbrug Zanderij Crailoo designed by Vista landscape and urban design in The Netherlands. It is the longest in the world at 1/2mile or 800m. They have proven to be successful, and there was recently a competition for the design and construction of 9 more around the country. They function best when positioned at crucial migratory routes and link separate nature areas. In The Netherlands, they function as important features within a much larger ecological structure spreading across the country.

  • Steven Olsen

    These wildlife bridges are already built in Banff National Park in Canada. This isn't a new idea. I suppose building them out of wood is nice, but it's just a very small evolution on something already in use.