COEUR d'ALENE — The Idaho Transportation Department is testing a device in Boundary County that, if successful, could significantly reduce the number of collisions between animals and vehicles on highways throughout the state.
Last year, according to ITD, collisions between animals and vehicles cost Idaho approximately $20 million in vehicle repair costs, human injuries and fatalities, towing, investigation, and the disposal of animal carcasses. To help alleviate this cost to both the state and motorists, ITD is testing a system that uses a Doppler-radar sensor mounted on top of a 25 foot pole to detect large animals on either side of the road.
The system, according to a press release, is connected to flashing warning beacons that are activated to alert motorists.
"It's another tool in the toolbox," said Reed Hollinshead, ITD public information specialist. "There is no guarantee that this system will be used, but it's another tool we are investigating. We understand that vehicle-wildlife conflicts are definitely a concern, particularly in a rural state like ours."
Underpasses have also been used by ITD in the agency's attempts to reduce collision numbers.
An underpass aimed at reducing the risk of collisions between vehicles and wildlife was built in 2012 on U.S. Highway 95 north of Hayden, near the Chilco interchange. There are three underpasses along the highway, most of which have fencing that funnels animals into the tunnel.
Underpasses, according to a previous Press article, have been successfully used in several areas including Wyoming, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Banff National Park in Alberta.
Whitetail deer along the highway are the No. 1 reason ITD installed the underpasses. However, a variety of animals such as elk and moose also makes use of the tunnel.
"From a numbers standpoint, whitetail deer would make up the bulk of the auto crashes," Wayne Wakkinen, a biologist with Idaho Fish and Game, said in a previous article. "But, from a human safety standpoint, moose are the biggest concern. If a small car takes out the tall legs of a moose, its body could go through the windshield."
However, according to Hollinshead, the new beacon system could prove to be more effective than costly underpass projects. According to the news release, preliminary studies indicate that vehicle-animal collisions could be reduced by at least one-third by using the system.
"If you're taking $7 million off the table just by doing this, that would pay for a lot," Hollinshead added.
The system is also mobile, which is promising as the state continues to experience growth.
"An underpass could work today, but say a week from now a developer comes in and builds a subdivision right next to it — the presence of people are going to push the deer to a different location," Hollinshead said. "A tunnel can't move, but you can uproot the sign and take it to any location."
A video prepared by the Boise-based company that made the beacon, Sloan Security Group, demonstrating how the device works, is available at http://youtu.be/R4ZWQdMM7f0.