Richmond, Va. — The Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) research division, the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research (VCTIR), is conducting a three-year study to identify strategic locations to reduce animal-vehicle collisions. For this study, VDOT targeted a section of Interstate 64 on Afton Mountain in Albemarle, Augusta and Nelson counties due to the high number of related crashes in those areas. When the study began in 2012, deer-vehicle collisions were the third most frequent type of accident in the region, accounting for up to 30 percent of all crashes. The study will be completed in late 2015.
“VDOT is seeking innovative ways to meet the needs of motorists, increase safety and at the same time protect wildlife,” said VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick. “Our goal through this valuable research is to come to the table with recommended locations for cost-effective strategies to help mitigate these crashes, increase safety and reduce the significant dangers that can occur when wildlife and motorists meet on the roadway.”
Recent numbers included 300 deer fatalities from 2012 to 2014 on I-64 along Afton Mountain, plus 10 black bear deaths in the same area in September and October 2013. Biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have attributed more frequent and visible bear movement to scarce food supplies last fall.
“Animal-vehicle collisions represent one of the most significant wildlife-management challenges in many parts of Virginia, due to concerns about human safety, wildlife population impacts and animal welfare,” said VDGIF Executive Director Bob Duncan. “VDGIF is pleased to collaborate with VDOT and its researchers on the Afton Mountain project, which we see as a step forward in understanding how, when and where animals are crossing roads and how to adapt accordingly.”
A 2008 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report to Congress on reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions found the most effective methods to reduce such crashes are fencing, either alone or used with wildlife crossings (overpasses or underpasses), and animal-detection driver-warning systems that can detect animals near the roadway and alert drivers.
The FHWA report estimated the cost per deer-vehicle collision at $8,388 (in 2008 dollars), which includes factors such as property damage, human injury, and animal removal and disposal. The VDOT researchers cited that report in their initial proposal for this I-64 project.
VDOT published two other research studies in 2005 and 2010 that investigated the use of animal underpasses by wildlife throughout Virginia. They both concluded that if such structures are properly located and are the right size, deer, bear and other animals will use them.