The Virginia Transportation Research Council, the research division of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), has conducted several research projects on effective measures to reduce wildlife crashes. The most recent study included an evaluation of the effectiveness of enhancing existing isolated underpasses with one mile of 8-ft high wildlife fencing. Information from cameras deployed at underpasses and along the roadside was used to compare two years of roadside wildlife activity and underpass use before fencing installation to two years of roadside activity and underpass use after fencing installation. Wildlife fencing resulted in an average deer crash reduction of 92% and up to a 410% increase in the use of the structures by wildlife. Although wildlife use of the underpasses was much greater than their activity at any of the fence ends, there was relatively high activity at the fence ends that did not tie into a feature such as right-of-way fencing. The study found that the addition of wildlife fencing to certain existing isolated underpasses can be a highly cost effective means of increasing diver safety and enhancing habitat connectivity. The benefits from crash reduction exceeded the fencing costs in 1.8 years, and fencing resulted in an average saving of more than $2.3 million per site over the 25-year lifetime of the fencing.
These findings and those from previous research projects are resulting in wildlife crash reduction guidelines for VDOT and new processes to integrate wildlife crash reduction decisions into project scoping, safety evaluations, and underpass design. This presentation will include a summary of the underpass and fencing research and the specific steps taken to apply study findings to VDOT decision-making processes. These steps include communicating the safety benefits and cost effectiveness of wildlife crash countermeasures to VDOT leadership and gaining an understanding of each division’s role in transportation project delivery in order to determine the best means of integrating wildlife considerations into their existing processes.
Finally, the presentation will include the ways in which research and other efforts were used to inform legislative decisions that resulted in the state’s recent wildlife corridor legislation. Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 calling for the development of a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan, which includes the identification of wildlife corridors and the use of countermeasures such as underpasses and fencing to decrease crashes and maintain habitat connectivity across roads. The 2021 legislation built upon this by directing several state agencies to incorporate the recommendations from the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan into their planning process.