Caltrans plans to build $12M crossing for wildlife to travel safely under Hwy 17

Vehicle versus animal collisions can enact a heavy toll in damage and sometimes lives.  Caltrans plans to construct a crossing for animals to safely get from one side of Highway 17 to the other. In Santa Cruz County, from the Laurel Curve to the city below, more than 60 animals have been hit the past 15 years..

“Over 50 percent of the wildlife that are hit on the 17, are hit in this Laurel Curve area. It’s very dangerous. Wildlife are trying to cross that area,” said Shannon Munz of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission.

The curve is a serpentine section of roadway at mile marker nine-point-five as you head north towards San Jose. Mountain lions, deer, foxes  and raccoons are usually too slow to beat oncoming traffic, and are hit and killed.

“It’s a drainage between areas with not a lot of people around. So you know, mountain lions especially, like to go where there are not people. So they’re following the water and following the forest,” said Stephen Slade, the executive director of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz.

Caltrans plans to build a crossing under 60-feet of the highway where animals can safely get from one side to the other. The concept has been on the drawing board the past four years, and experts say it would prevent collisions and the associated costs in dollars and sometimes lives.

“It’s better than a tunnel for wildlife because it’s wider, taller. And they don’t like to go into a dark alley. They wanna go into a nice well lit street. This is basically what it is for them,” said Slade.

463 acres of land has been acquired so Caltrans can build the $12 million under crossing. A second animal crossing is planned for Highway 17 on the Santa Clara side near Lexington Reservoir.

“We feel like this is a really important project to work towards solving this issue,” said Munz.

Six million dollars has already been raised for the project, with another three contributed from private donors. The balance would come from Santa Cruz Measure B, a transportation tax, that passed last November. Caltrans estimates two years to design the undercrossing, and another six months to award bids. Construction could begin in 2020.