Alberta hopes to build new wildlife overpass to fix highway 'death trap'

Alberta Transportation is looking at a new overpass to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on the busy Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Canmore.

Province estimates collisions cost at least $750,000 on that stretch of highway

Crews install a wildlife overpass at Kicking Horse Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway in 2017. A conservation group based in Canmore would like to see a similar overpass near Lac Des Arcs, Alta., to prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions. (Canadian Press/HO-Ross Donihue/Yellowstone to Yukon)

Alberta Transportation is looking at a new overpass to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on the busy Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Canmore.

The wildlife overpass east of the community of Lacs Des Arc, Alta., is still in the planning stages.

"We are trying to get a head start on it right now by having the designs in place and things ready to go," said Alberta Transportation spokesman Wayne Wood.

Officials have put out a request for proposal on the design. They are also working on an animal detection system along the highway that would alert motorists to wildlife.

"The idea is to have sensors that would detect wildlife," he said.

"That, in turn, would trigger a flashing warning sign along the side of the highway saying, 'wildlife in the area, please slow down."'

Once the designs are ready, Wood said they would be able to build the overpass and install the sensors as soon as funding is approved.

A Canmore-based conservation group said it hopes the money for the project will be in this spring's budget.

'High-collision zone'

"It's a high-collision zone for ungulates (deer and elk) as well as carnivores (bears and wolves)," said Stephen Legault, a program director with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. "That whole section of highway is a bit of a killing zone for ungulates.

"It's a real death trap."

Collisions with wildlife can also injure people and damage vehicles.

Legault said the province has estimated that vehicle collisions cost at least $750,000 annually on that stretch of highway.

The conservation group would like to see the province go with an open-span design similar to an overpass recently built at Kicking Horse Pass by Parks Canada over the Trans-Canada Highway in B.C.

A wildlife overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park. (A.T. Ford/Montana State University)

They estimate it would cost around $7 million, said Legault.

Fencing the seven-kilometres between Lacs Des Arc and the Highway 1A turnoff would cost extra.

"It's certainly not an insignificant expense, but it essentially creates a funnel for the animals to get over the overpass," said Legault, noting both measures have multiple benefits.

In addition to improving public safety for the thousands of motorists who drive to and from the mountains every day, he said it would also reduce up to 60 animal deaths per year.

Legault said it's an important corridor for wildlife travelling through the area looking for food or to find mates.

The project would also meet part of Alberta's grizzly bear recovery strategy by mitigating the impact of highways on wildlife movements.

A recent study looking at wildlife overpasses in Banff National Park showed grizzly bears, particularly mothers with cubs, often select larger and more open structures such as overpasses rather than underpasses or tunnels to cross roads.