Safe Passage Fund Coalition is grateful for investment in Haywood County
RALEIGH, N.C. — In honor of Road Safety Week, the Safe Passage Fund Coalition applauds the North Carolina General Assembly for appropriating $2 million in funding for infrastructure to help reduce wildlife–vehicle collisions across the state. This infrastructure—which includes overpasses, underpasses and fencing along roads and highways—is critical in increasing safety along roadways for wildlife and humans alike.
“We are so grateful that the North Carolina General Assembly has prioritized funding to reduce wildlife–vehicle collisions on Interstate 40 near the Smokies in Haywood County,” said Jeff Hunter, Southern Appalachian director of National Parks Conservation Association, a Safe Passage Fund Coalition member. “This is a win-win for wildlife and the motoring public. We are hopeful that this investment will help leverage federal dollars to address this issue statewide.”
The N.C. Department of Transportation reports that the new funding in the budget will allow it to address three of the 13 Interstate 40 projects recommended by the Safe Passage Fund Coalition. Combined with the five projects that are already funded, this would bring the projects to a total of eight of the 13 recommended.
NCDOT plans to use the majority of the $2 million from this budget for additional wildlife fencing, planning, and the construction of a mitigation project at Hurricane Creek. The remaining funds will be used to develop estimates and feasibility plans for two potential wildlife overpasses, one bridge replacement, and two culvert replacements.
“NCDOT is excited to receive this funding and to continue the development and delivery of these important projects for Haywood County and western NC,” said Wanda Payne, NCDOT Division 14 engineer.
“North Carolina’s funding to support wildlife safe passage across roads will help provide habitat connectivity essential for the persistence of healthy wildlife populations, especially in the face of environmental changes that are increasingly transforming and fragmenting the landscape,” said Ben Prater, Safe Passage steering committee member and Southeast program director at Defenders of Wildlife, a member of the coalition.
NCDOT finished installing wildlife accommodations around the Harmon Den exit that include animal crossings on both sides of Cold Springs Creek, ungulate guards at all four ramps, and wildlife fencing around the interchange.
“Protecting wildlife from roadway collisions is critical for our infrastructure, the safety of motorists, natural ecosystems, and maintaining a positive image for North Carolina,” said Tim Gestwicki, CEO of North Carolina Wildlife Federation and chair of the Safe Passage Fund Coalition’s steering committee. “We are glad to see bipartisan support for this critically important work in our state.”