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Bridging the Divide: The Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program and the Future of Transportation

A new initiative by the U.S. Department of Transportation aims to redefine the relationship between transportation infrastructure and the natural world. The Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program (WCPP), released on April 4, sets aside nearly $112 million in funding to tackle the one million wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) that plague American roads annually, endangering human safety and wildlife populations alike.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 authorized a total of $350 million for the WCPP, to be disbursed by the Federal Highway Administration between 2022 and 2026. The program's primary goals are twofold: reduce WVCs, which cause tens of thousands of serious injuries, hundreds of fatalities, and over $8 billion in associated costs; and improve habitat connectivity for terrestrial and aquatic species, ensuring their continued survival in the face of expanding human infrastructure.

The WCPP is open to a wide range of stakeholders, including state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, local governments, Indian Tribes, and Federal Land Management Agencies. In a bid to encourage innovation, the program is structured to fund both non-construction and construction projects. Non-construction endeavors include research on safety innovations, WVC mitigation effectiveness, mapping tools, impact analyses, and public outreach. Construction projects, on the other hand, involve designing and building wildlife crossing structures, such as underpasses or overpasses, as well as adapting or replacing existing structures to foster connectivity for terrestrial species.

With up to 50 awards available, the WCPP seeks to spur collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking among applicants, with an award floor of $200,000 and a ceiling of $20 million per project. Proposals will be evaluated based on two primary merit criteria: the reduction of WVCs and the improvement of habitat connectivity for terrestrial and aquatic species. Applications are due August 1st.

The WCPP offers a rare opportunity to unite diverse stakeholders in a common cause, addressing the pressing issues of human safety and ecological preservation. By providing a substantial financial incentive, the program encourages inventive solutions that have the potential to reshape the landscape of transportation infrastructure, paving the way for a more sustainable future. As the effects of climate change and habitat loss increasingly threaten ecosystems, the WCPP's focus on habitat connectivity is a timely and essential investment.

Moreover, the WCPP signals a growing awareness of the interconnected nature of human and ecological well-being. By addressing the dual challenges of human safety and wildlife conservation, the program serves as a model for future initiatives that seek to strike a balance between progress and preservation.

In the coming years, as the WCPP awards are granted and projects come to fruition, the program's success will be measured not only by the reduction of WVCs but also by the extent to which it inspires further innovation and collaboration among stakeholders. If successful, the WCPP could herald a new era of transportation infrastructure, one that is safer for humans, more sustainable for wildlife, and more in tune with the complexities of our shared environment.


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