ELKO — Though the 10 Mile Summit, a wildlife safety crossing on U.S. Highway 93 north of Wells, was finished in the summer, it took until the start of the fall season to gauge how much safer the overpass made the highway.
“Deer migration periods are usually only four to six weeks in the fall and then four to six weeks in the springtime,” said Joe Doucette, a conservation educator with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “For now we have just had a few scattered cases of deer using the crossing.”
The WSC is equipped with motion detectors and cameras to track exactly how many deer or other wild animals cross the bridge at certain times.
Time will tell whether or not the bridge is effective, but for now the overpass has been a welcome innovation.
“We built this crossing mainly for motorists,” Scott McGruder, lead spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation, said. “Collisions with deer cause billions of dollars in damage each year so we hope this will prevent some of those accidents.”
U.S. 93 has had one of the highest vehicle-animal accident rates in Nevada, according to NDOT.
The Wildlife Safety Crossing has been an intriguing topic — so much so that a student at the University of Nevada Reno is doing a study on the contraption to measure its effectiveness.
Nova Simpson, a graduate student at UNR, is working on her master’s degree by tracking the success rates of the overpass and the behavioral habits of the deer using the WSC.
“We have had 53 individual deer cross over so far, but pretty soon we should have large groups using the overpass,” she said.
Deer populations should remain heavy in the area since no shooting is allowed within a half-mile range of the WSC.
The overpass cost approximately $1.8 million to build and is the biggest wildlife overpass in the western United States. It is 162 feet across the roadway and is about 23 feet above the road at its apex. There are three miles of fencing on both sides of the highway to prevent deer from directly crossing the roads.
According to Randy Hesterlee of NDOT’s Elko district office, there have been no vehicle-animal collisions in the area since the project was finished.
McGruder believes that this project and the future crossings being built will significantly cut down the amount of collisions in Northern Nevada.
“This overpass was built to protect motorists first and foremost,” he said. Vehicle-animal collisions cost billions of dollars in damage each year and are a tremendous problem. Because of that we are also building three underpasses and another overpass all along Highway 93 north of Wells.”
The underpasses are nearly completed and the second overpass should be finished by the end of November, weather permitting, McGruder said.
Traffic near the final overpass is currently one-lane, and controlled by stoplights. McGruder said the highway will return to normal and the stoplights removed by the end of next week.
This new overpass will cost $3.1 million to build, while the three underpasses cost a total of $2.2 million.