Arizona DOT Highlights Elk Fencing Project

The Arizona Department of Transportation recently highlighted the benefits of its collaboration with the Arizona Game & Fish Department (AZGFD) to reduce elk-vehicle crashes on northbound I-17 south of Flagstaff in a blog post.

[Above photo by Arizona DOT]

In 2011, AZGFD noted a high number of elk-vehicle crashes occurred along a stretch of I-17 near Munds Park.  Because a full-grown bull elk can weigh upwards of 700 pounds, crashing into something that large can destroy a vehicle and cause serious injury or death to vehicle occupants, as well as the animal. 

In 2012, after a series of studies, AZGFD and the Arizona DOT installed ungulate – “ungulate” means “hoofed mammal” – fencing in four locations near Munds Park on I-17. In most instances, Arizona DOT works crews modified existing right-of-way fences with bolts and barbed wire, eliminating the need for completely new fencing and poles.

This project produced almost immediate results, both agencies said. From the 20 documented elk-vehicle crashes that occurred along this strip of I-17 from 2007 to 2010, only one occurred between 2010 and 2014.

Arizona DOT said this is but one example of the state mitigating wildlife issues through partnerships among multiple agencies. The agency noted it also collaborated with AZGFD to construct wildlife underpasses and elk crossings along State Route 260 east of Payson and desert bighorn sheep overpasses near historic Hoover Dam on US 93.

The wildlife protection efforts undertaken by Arizona DOT are reflective of similar initiatives spearheaded by state departments of transportation nationwide.

For example, in July and August every year, the North Carolina Department of Transportation temporarily lowers speed limits from 55 mph to 20 mph on the William B. Umstead Bridge – locally known as the old Manns Harbor Bridge – at dusk and dawn during the roosting period of purple martin bird flocks.

NCDOT noted in a statement that it has collaborated with the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society since 2007 to educate the public about the purple martin flocks, to protect both the birds and motorists.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation recently completed the state’s newest wildlife overpass and underpass on U.S. Highway 160 in the southwestern part of the state, celebrating the accomplishment with a ribbon-cutting event.

To date, Colorado DOT said it has built more than 60 wildlife mitigation structures crossing above or under highways throughout the state. Additionally, it has installed 400 miles of high big game fencing along state and U.S. highways or next to the interstates.

On the research front, a report released by an international pool funded study led by the Nevada Department of Transportation in July provides an “authoritative review” of the most effective measures to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, improve motorist safety, and build safer wildlife crossings.

With as many as two million collisions with large mammals in the United States leading to approximately 200 human deaths every year, the review compiled, evaluated, and synthesized studies, scientific reports, journal articles, technical papers, and other publications from within the United States and beyond to determine effectiveness of 30 different mitigation measures.

Ultimately, the report provides best management practices to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, increase habitat connectivity, and implement cost-effective solutions, Nevada DOT said.

Arizona DOT Protects Plants During I-17 Project

As the Arizona Department of Transportation starts work on the  I-17 Improvement Project from Anthem Way to Sunset Point, it is taking steps protect the natural landscape along this stretch of scenic highway corridor as well. 

[Above photo by the Arizona DOT]

The agency said its work crews are removing native vegetation – including saguaros, palo verde trees and ocotillos – from the 23-mile project corridor to temporary nurseries, before eventually replanting them alongside an improved and wider highway. 

Drivers who regularly travel I-17 between Anthem Way and Sunset Point may see some of what the Arizona DOT describes as “plant salvage” work during the next several months. Plant salvage crews from the Kiewit-Fann Joint Venture developer team will collect hundreds of viable native trees, “accents” (such as ocotillos and yuccas), saguaros and other cacti from the construction area. Altogether, roughly two-thirds of the right-of-way along the 23-mile project area will remain undisturbed, meaning no plant salvaging will be necessary.

“October is usually the prime time for salvaging the plant material, just because our temperature is not too hot and not too cold,” said David Casselbury, a landscape architect with Arizona DOT, in a statement. “We’re hoping the general public will enjoy driving along the highway and seeing this plant material back in its natural environment once the project is complete.” 

The salvaged trees and cacti are not the only plants returning to the natural landscape once the improvement project is finished, the agency added, as it plans to add native seed mixes and nursery-grown plants to the highway construction area. Those efforts help to achieve the long-term goal of successfully revegetating areas within the construction area considered “landscape-able” with a mix of plants that will thrive and restore the natural environment for years to come. 

Restoring native plants has been an integral part of many Arizona DOT projects for more than 35 years, according to the agency.

For example, Arizona DOT spent the last four years relocating a rare and endangered species of cactus growing near the Pinto Creek bridge replacement project along U.S. 60 near Globe-Miami. Initiated in 2018, this relocation effort is the latest step in a long-term partnership between the Arizona DOT and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix to protect hedgehog cactuses that only grow in one tiny area of the state.

The agency also relies on ‘biomonitor’ teams from Northern Arizona University or NAU to help its work crews find and relocate endangered species – including snakes, birds and fish – from construction sites.

Specifically, those biomonitor teams train construction workers and other involved in transportation projects to identify any endangered species and what to do if they come across one. The teams also monitor construction activity and help safely remove any endangered species out of harm’s way.

Colorado DOT Building I-70 Wildlife Crossing

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently began work on the I-70 Genesee wildlife-crossing project, one of several I-70 Floyd Hill projects to improve both highway safety and traffic flow ahead of construction on the $700 million main project.

[Above image by Colorado DOT]

The I-70 Genesee wildlife-crossing project consists of a dedicated wildlife underpass going under I-70 between the exits for Lookout Mountain and Genesee. Additionally, crews will place wildlife fencing along both east and westbound I-70 that extends from the Genesee Exit to the Lookout Mountain Exit.

The agency noted that this area has the highest number of wildlife-vehicle collisions on the I-70 Mountain Corridor east of the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel.

“The new underpass at I-70 Genesee is the first major wildlife crossing to be constructed along the I-70 Mountain Corridor, and it will allow wildlife to safely cross underneath the interstate at a location which has historically been a hotspot for wildlife related crashes,” said Colorado DOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew in a statement.

“Reducing animal-vehicle conflicts and improving wildlife connectivity is a major element to the overall improvement of travel time reliability, safety, and mobility in the I-70 Floyd Hill project area,” she added.

The plan calls for construction of two new I-70 bridges, followed by excavation under those bridges to create the wildlife underpass. Once the underpass is complete, crews will install the wildlife fencing. Altogether, bridge and underpass construction should wrap up by the spring of 2024.

To date, Colorado DOT has built more than 60 wildlife mitigation structures crossing above or under highways throughout the state. Additionally, it has installed 400 miles of high big game fencing along state and U.S. highways or next to the interstates.

In August, the agency completed the state’s newest wildlife overpass and underpass on U.S. Highway 160 in the southwestern part of the state.

In October 2021, Colorado DOT and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency completed wildlife underpasses along a rural stretch of Interstate 25 between Colorado’s two largest cities, Denver and Colorado Springs.

That wildlife mitigation system is part of a $419 million transportation improvement project – known as the I-25 South Gap project – that aims to improve safety and travel on 18 miles of I-25 south of the Denver metropolitan region; a route that more than 87,000 motorists use on a daily basis.

Wildlife, Environment Key Focal Points of I-70 Project

Key initial components of the $700 million I-70 Floyd Hill project kicked off recently by the Colorado Department of Transportation include the construction of wildlife crossings and fences as well as a “mobility hub” to provide transit and electric vehicle services.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

The project will rebuild a seven-mile stretch of I-70 from exit 248 northwest of Evergreen to exit 241 in eastern Idaho Springs and work to eliminate a bottleneck on one of the most congested stretches of the I-70 Mountain Corridor.

Early construction begins this fall with a new wildlife crossing at Genesee and roundabouts along US 40 between Evergreen and Floyd Hill, with major construction on the corridor starting in spring 2023.

“The I-70 Floyd Hill Project will improve travel time, reliability, and safety,” explained Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado DOT, in a statement.

“By eliminating the bottleneck at Floyd Hill, the project will significantly ease congestion and decrease the number and severity of crashes through more consistent traffic flow and speeds,” she said. “The project will provide alternate emergency access through a newly connected frontage road system that strengthens safety and mobility for thousands of Coloradans that rely on I-70 to access their communities and for the millions who visit the mountains annually. Essential to this project are multi-modal options, including our Pegasus van service which already started last spring, and improvements to the Greenway trail for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy Clear Creek County.”

Key wildlife and environmental improvements involved in the I-70 Floyd Hill project include:

  • Improving the multimodal Greenway trail.
  • Building wildlife crossings and fencing, and restoring nearby creek and riparian areas to protect and preserve the local environment and wildlife.
  • Developing a mobility hub with electric vehicle infrastructure and accessibility options that integrate into the state’s I-70 transit service, including the new Pegasus van service added in May 2022 to the corridor.
  • Providing permanent air quality monitors and coordinating rural broadband access with local communities.

FHWA Helps Initiate $1B Fish Passage Program

The Federal Highway Administration, along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, recently made $1 billion in grants available over the next five years via a new “fish passage” program established by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021.

[Above photo by the WSDOT]

Formally entitled the “National Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration-Culvert Aquatic Organism Passage” program, it seeks to help communities remove and repair culverts found under roads that can prevent fish passage. FHWA said the program’s aim is to help state, local, and tribal governments protect local economies that count on healthy fisheries while also making key roads less prone to flooding.

“Many tribal and underserved coastal communities depend on thriving fish populations for their livelihoods, and this program, which will remove, replace, and repair harmful culverts, will improve the natural environment and the economic wellbeing of Tribal, coastal, and low-lying communities,” said Stephanie Pollack, FHWA’s acting administrator, in a statement.

“[These] grants will both help restore fish populations and make roads more durable and resilient to climate events, creating cascading benefits for communities that rely on the fisheries economy,” she added.

The agency explained that barriers to freshwater migration are a major cause of declining populations of anadromous fish, which live primarily in the ocean, but return to freshwater streams to spawn. This fish passage program seeks to help remove or redesign culverts and “weirs” that create such barriers, allowing anadromous fish populations – including salmon, sturgeon, lamprey, shad, and river herring – to access freshwater habitats for spawning.

FHWA noted that a “weir” allows for the controlled passage of water over a low-headed dam, while a culvert allows for the subterranean passage of water through a channel underneath an obstacle, such as a road.

Tribes, state, and local governments can apply for a portion of the $196 million of fiscal year 2022 funding currently available through this new program via a notice of funding opportunity issued by FHWA on October 6.

Across the country, state departments of transportation regularly provide support to a wide variety of efforts aimed at protecting numerous wildlife species and their habitats – such as birds, pollinating insects, bats, cactus, and of course fish.

For example, the Arizona Department of Transportation recently illustrated in an April blog post how ‘biomonitor’ teams from Northern Arizona University or NAU help the agency’s crews find and relocate endangered species – including snakes, birds, and fish – from construction sites.

Specifically, those biomonitor teams train construction workers and others involved in transportation projects to identify any endangered species and what to do if they come across one. The teams also monitor construction activity and help safely remove any endangered species out of harm’s way.

In terms of fish protection, the Washington State Department of Transportation went so far as to build an “engineered creek” to provide a better and safer avenue to spawning areas.

The engineered creek includes native vegetation, strategic bends, and elevation changes designed to support “every life cycle of fish,” WSDOT explained. It features places for fish to lay eggs and hide from predators, allowing the salmon to “naturally move” from freshwater to saltwater habitats and back again.

University Ecologists Studying Idaho’s Roadside Vegetation

Ecologists at Idaho State University are working with the Idaho Transportation Department to turn state roadsides into veritable “Swiss army knives” of vegetation so they are both more fire-resistant and more welcoming to pollinating insects.

[Above photo by Idaho State University]

Joshua Grinath, assistant professor of community and global change ecology at the school, and his students recently wrapped up the first growing season at three experimental sites along I-15 in Eastern Idaho.

They are working with three different types of ecosystems at those sites, figuring out how to make the land more hospitable to native plants and less so for invasive weeds. That research also includes increasing the habitat’s fire resistance, while becoming a more attractive habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies.

[Editor’s note: In a July 2021 episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Matthew Quirey – a  landscape design and research fellow with The Ray – explained how roadside landscapes, more often termed the “right-of-way,” are now being viewed as “habitat assets” instead of maintenance burdens among state departments of transportation.]

Grinath’s research team is testing how different combinations of mowing, herbicide treatments, and seed applications can improve native plant survival in those roadside locales.

This research received its primary funding via a grant from the Idaho Transportation Department, with additional funds supplied by ISU’s College of Science and Engineering, as well as the school’s Office for Research.

In September, the team received additional funding to test how adding certain types of bacteria, fungi, and micronutrients to the soil may improve restoration.

“Roadside management is most commonly focused on a single issue, such as erosion control, but other challenges may be able to be addressed simultaneously,” Grinath explained in a blog post. “Considering these issues simultaneously will help Idaho Transportation Department save taxpayers money and address urgent land management concerns.”

State DOTs Give an Assist to the Birds

Across the country, state departments of transportation provide support to a wide variety of efforts aimed at supporting numerous bird species and their habitats.

[Above photo by the NCDOT]

For example, in July and August every year, the North Carolina Department of Transportation temporarily lower speed limits from 55 mph to 20 mph on the William B. Umstead Bridge – locally known as the old Manns Harbor Bridge – at dusk and dawn during the roosting period of purple martin bird flocks.

NCDOT noted in a statement that it has collaborated with the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society since 2007 to educate the public about the purple martin flocks, to protect both the birds and motorists. From late July through August, the west end of the bridge becomes home to as many as 100,000 purple martins as they prepare for their annual migration to Brazil. The birds roost under the bridge at night, departing at dawn to feed and returning at sunset. The flock is so large during its peak that it is visible on radar.

To protect those birds, NCDOT activates flashing lights and lowers the speed limit on the bridge at sunrise and sunset. Law enforcement monitors speed limits on the bridge to allow motorists and birds safe passage across the sound. Since NCDOT installed those lights and lowered speed limits, the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society has seen a dramatic decline in bird deaths around the bridge.

On a broader basis, NCDOT initiated a mitigation program in April operated by its Division of Aviation to reduce the risk of wildlife hazards by providing a variety of training and support options for both airports and aircraft.

The agency said North Carolina airports average at least one bird or other wildlife strikes upon aircraft per day, which can cause significant damage. For example, in 2018, an aircraft landing at a general aviation airport sustained more than $800,000 in damage when it struck two of six white-tailed deer crossing the runway.

“Flocks of birds taking flight, deer crossing runways, and other such hazards can cause serious damage to property and even loss of life,” noted Rajendra Kondapalli, the program’s manager, in a statement. “Our program focuses on reducing that risk and increasing safety for aircraft that fly in and out of airports across our state.”

Meanwhile, the Idaho Transportation Department helped Girl Scout Troop 1806 and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) install homemade birdhouses near the US-95 McArthur Lake project south of Naples.

Photo from ITD

ITD Project Manager Carrie Ann Hewitt has consulted IDFG biologists through the design of the project, which includes realigning one mile of the highway near the lake to make the existing curves safer for drivers and to elevate the highway where it dips down to the water. Elevating US-95 will also allow wildlife to pass underneath to access the IDFG McArthur Lake Wildlife Management Area, ITD noted in a statement.

The agency expects to start construction on this roadway project in 2023 and 2024, with tree thinning starting in 2022 to prepare for the road’s realignment.

Hewitt – a co-leader for the Girl Scout troop – has been researching the habitat needs of the mountain bluebird, flocks of which reside near the project, and reached out to IDFG to see about improving its habitat.

“Mountain bluebird populations are struggling,” Hewitt noted. “The girls found that cowbirds actually swap out eggs with the bluebirds, and the bluebirds unknowingly hatch the wrong offspring.”

The troop built 18 birdhouses with entrances too small for the cowbirds to prevent that from happening, with IDFG suggesting that they install them near McArthur Lake due to the recent thinning, along with another site near Boundary Creek.

Nevada DOT-Led Study Offers Wildlife Crossing Insights

A research document just released by an international pool-funded study led by the Nevada Department of Transportation provides an “authoritative review” of the most effective measures to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, improve motorist safety, and build safer wildlife crossings.  

[Above image by the Nevada DOT]
With as many as two million collisions with large mammals in the United States leading to approximately 200 human deaths every year, the review compiled, evaluated, and synthesized studies, scientific reports, journal articles, technical papers, and other publications from within the United States and beyond to determine the effectiveness of 30 different mitigation measures.

Ultimately, the report provides best management practices to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, increase habitat connectivity, and implement cost-effective solutions. Key findings include:

  • The most proven effective measures to reduce animal-vehicle collisions by over 85 percent while providing habitat connectivity remain wildlife fences in combination with wildlife overpasses and/or underpasses. Researchers now know that these measures must cover at least several miles to reduce collisions significantly with large mammal species.
  • Traditional warning signs, educational campaigns, reducing posted nighttime speed limits, and other measures are in general less than 50 percent effective. Some mitigation measures are at least 50 percent or greater effective in reducing animal-vehicle collisions, including roadside animal detection systems, nighttime lighting, and reducing the size of the population of wildlife species involved. However, none of those reduces a road’s “barrier effect” for wildlife; some even increase the barrier effect.  
  • No detailed study examines the ability to reduce animal-vehicle collisions with vehicle-based detection technology in highway situations – especially where connected and autonomous vehicles or CAVs are concerned. While there are likely benefits of this technology for reducing collisions with large mammal species, the sensors typically do not detect smaller species. Furthermore, this technology does not reduce the barrier effect of the road and traffic for wildlife.

Nova Simpson, a biological supervisor and large mammal mitigation specialist with Nevada DOT, helped manage the study.  Simpson believes it will help state and federal transportation, land management, and wildlife agencies optimize efforts to reduce animal-vehicle collisions. 

“This pooled fund study provides a very unique opportunity to synthesize current knowledge from the U.S., Canada, and internationally,” noted Simpson in a statement. “It will improve the cost-benefit analyses of mitigation measures, field test improved designs and technologies; and coordinate and provide outreach to transportation, land management, and wildlife agencies and their stakeholders. Ultimately, these efforts will help in the reduction of wildlife-vehicle collisions across the United States.”
Nevada DOT has already installed many roadway improvements to reduce potentially dangerous animal-vehicle collisions statewide. For example, in February, the agency installed four-foot high livestock fencing along stretches of U.S. 50 between State Route 341 and Chaves Road in Dayton, NV, to reduce horse-vehicle collisions.

Nevada DOT also worked with the Nevada Department of Wildlife to install nine safety crossings on Interstate 80 between Wendover and Wells and U.S. 93 north of Wells in the northeastern portion of the state four years ago.

That project – which garnered a 2019 Environmental Excellence Award from the Federal Highway Administration – covered wildlife overpasses with native soil and vegetation to replicate the natural environment, with roughly 60 miles of eight-foot-high fencing installed along both sections of the roadways redirecting and encouraging deer, mules, and other animals to use the crossing points.

The agency added that it has also installed 400 miles of tortoise fencing and 19 tortoise underpass/culvert crossings on the U.S. 95 and U.S. 93 in southern Nevada to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and tortoise road mortality.

Sweet Success: NCDOT Crews Help Rescue Honey Bees

Routine highway maintenance conducted by a North Carolina Department of Transportation work crew turned into one “honey” of a rescue mission in early June.

[Above photo by NCDOT]

NCDOT Division 9 maintenance crews were working on storm drain repairs and cutting down dead trees along U.S. 52 and discovered something unusual: Two honey-making beehive colonies nestled within one of the dead trees.

An online search for honeybee resources led the crew to “Miss Humble B’s Hive,” a local organization affiliated with the Forsyth County Beekeepers Association.

The group came to the highway work site and collected one live queen, some honeycomb, and most of the hive – relocating the bees to a small wooden hive in their own backyard. The bees rescued from the badly damaged hive at the U.S. 52 site will remain in the wooden hive until the queen starts laying eggs and the colony has enough bees to protect a larger hive, NCDOT said

While honeybees are not listed as an endangered species, their numbers along with several other species of bees have been on the decline over the past few decades – largely attributed to climate change, harmful chemical use, and habitat loss, among other factors. The loss of these important pollinators could have a significant impact on fruit and vegetable crops and wildflowers, noted Tiffany Williams-Brooks, who owns Miss Humble B’s Hive with her husband, Derek.

“When we look at the honeybee population, it is definitely on a decline,” she said in a statement. “When it comes to the number of hives beekeepers have nationally, the number has declined by at least 50 percent over the last several years.”

In terms of the rescued hives, Williams-Brooks said she could not find new broods and eggs. “We found open queen cells where new queens had emerged at some point,” she explained. “There were a lot of bees flying around, but they may not have belonged to that hive. We are in a nectar dearth, [or] scarcity of nectar, so often we will see bees coming in to take honey from other hives.”

Still, NCDOT Transportation Supervisor Kenny Butler – who, along with colleagues Greg Dellacona and Danielle Herrin, located Miss Humble B’s Hive to rescue the bees found along U.S. 52 – considers this bee relocation a success. “It was simply the right thing to do,” he emphasized. “We’re proud of the work our people do and are appreciative of the effort they take to just do the right thing.”

State departments of transportation across the country are engaged in a variety of efforts to preserve pollinator habitats, both for insects and specific plants.

For example, in October 2021, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts or GACD began installing 15 pollinator habitat sites in designated locations as part of a joint effort to educate state residents about the important role “pollinators” such as bees, butterflies, and other insects play in Georgia’s agricultural sector.

“This partnership provides Georgia DOT with the unique opportunity to create a safe and beautiful place for families and travelers to get up close and personal with the wildflowers and grasses [to] learn about how they impact the world around us,” explained Felicity Davis, a landscape architect manager with the Georgia DOT, in a statement.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation participated in a similar endeavor with the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) and Tennessee Department of Agriculture as those three agencies formed a partnership in 2019 to support 64 acres of “pollinator meadows” at eight state parks.

Each blooming meadow contains a mix of nectar-bearing plants and milkweed, which sustain pollinators such as bees, moths, butterflies, birds, and small mammals such as bats. Those meadows also assist with TDEC’s Honey Project, which allows the public to purchase honey harvested annually within state parks across Tennessee.

The Tennessee DOT also recently launched a series of animated videos about pollination and pollinator species featuring the narrator “Polli the Tennessee Bee” to educate children about the process of pollination, its importance, and the pollinator species native to Tennessee.

It’s all part of “re-envisioning” the role state DOTs can play in turning roadway rights-of-way into protective habitats, Matthew Quirey – a landscape design and research fellow with The Ray, which is a public-private venture devoted to roadway technology testing along Interstate 85 in West Georgia

In a July 2021 episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Quirey explained how state DOTs can view such roadside “landscapes” are “habitat assets” instead of maintenance burdens.

“In general, we are thinking more about how right-of-ways are being redesigned to bring habitats back together – to serve not just as transportation corridors but ecosystem corridors as well,” he explained. That includes how right-of-ways can serve as habitats for pollinators, and contribute to better stormwater management in order to lessen pollution risks for nearby streams and rivers – incorporating sustainability and resiliency factors within more “environmentally sensitive” planning and design processes, Quirey said.

Illinois DOT Supporting Highway ROW Bird Habitat Efforts

An initiative to “Give BIRDS the ROW” in terms of creating big habitats in highway rights-of-way is expanding across Illinois – with new support from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

[Above photo by the Illinois DOT]

The program originated with the installation of birdhouses for “prothonotary warblers” along the Lost Bridge Trail near Illinois DOT’s headquarters in Springfield, IL. The program’s goal is to restore diverse bird species on rights-of-way or ROWs under the control of Illinois DOT. In its latest effort, a group of Illinois DOT employees recently helped install bluebird houses, provided by the McHenry County Audubon Society, at the Coalfield Rest Areas on I-55 near Litchfield in Montgomery County.

Posted in short-grass, open-yard habitats, these birdhouses not only provide a resting spot for bluebirds but also attract other native bird species.

“In total, four bluebird houses have been posted so far: two at the northbound Coalfield Rest Area and two at the southbound Coalfield Rest Area,” said Jarod Hitchings, who works as a photogrammetrist for the agency, in a statement. [Editor’s note: “Photogrammetry” is the use of photography in surveying and mapping to measure distances between objects.]

“The in­stallation of more houses are planned for prothonotary warblers along the Spoon River and for bluebird houses at rest areas and other appropriate short-grass, park-like habitats maintained by Illinois DOT,” he said.

Fellow Photogrammetrist Brenda Anderson joined Hitchings – who both work for the agency’s bureau of design and envi­ronment – to install those birdhouses. They received assistance from Illinois DOT District 6 Roadside Management Specialist Mike Staab and Junior Construction Inspection Technician Marcell Lare, Roadside Maintenance Manager Stephanie Dobbs, District 8 Acting Rest Area Manager Jacob Cuff, and District 5 Roadside Manager Scott Hall.

Illinois DOT Design and Environment’s Bicycle and Pedestrian/ADA Policy Engineer Steve Letsky also donated handcrafted birdhouses he built on his own for this effort.

“Operations and Design and Environ­ment have worked well together to pro­mote declining bird species,” Hitchings noted. “Partnering with the district offices, we have truly made this a statewide effort to promote a healthy environment for our feathered friends. Birds are a sentinel species and are a signal that the natural landscape is healthy for all wildlife.”

“We hope to grow this program and install a variety of houses at different locations as the habitat and range indicate,” Dobbs added. “In the future, if interesting species find homes on our right of way, we would like to do a webcam or something similar to share it with employees and the public.”

State departments of transportation across the country are involved in a number of efforts to protect and preserve bird species where possible.

For example, a mitigation program operated by the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation aims to reduce the risk of wildlife hazards by providing a variety of training and support options for both airports and aircraft.

“Flocks of birds taking flight, deer crossing runways, and other such hazards can cause serious damage to property and even loss of life,” noted Rajendra Kondapalli, the program’s manager, in a statement. “Our program focuses on reducing that risk and increasing safety for aircraft that fly in and out of airports across our state.”

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Transportation recently helped test ultrasonic bat “deterrence devices” at two bridges to help keep the mammals away from such structures when they undergo maintenance and/or repair activity.

The agency noted that bats like to roost in bridge expansion joints and temporarily preventing such roosting during bridge maintenance repair activity typically requires installing physical barriers that are often difficult to establish effectively, due to the design characteristics of many structures.

More importantly, the Minnesota DOT does not necessarily want to keep bats away permanently from its bridge as they provide safe roosting areas. Thus, the agency worked with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the last two years testing battery-operated ultrasonic deterrence devices that reduce bat activity at bridge sites when activated but ensure a quick return of bat roosting activity when deactivated.