Underpass saves lives and cash

By Fabian Mayer

A recent study published by the Miistakis Institute has found that a wildlife underpass on a section of the Trans-Canada Highway near Dead Man’s Flats, located near Canmore, Alberta, is substantially reducing collisions between animals and motorists.

The study found that since the underpass was installed in 2004, the collision rate has declined from an average of 12 to three collisions per year. The study also recommended 10 other locations with a high number of wildlife-related crashes where crossings would considerably reduce animal mortality and increase driver safety.

The Miistakis Institute is a non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Calgary and has a goal of promoting sustainable land-use practices. 

The study concluded that installing wildlife crossings of this sort reduces collisions and is a cost-effective venture, according to Miistakis Institute project manager and co-author of the study Tracy Hill.

“When we did a cost comparison, we actually found that there is a cost savings to society of over $89,000 annually,” said Hill. “Highway mitigation is something we should be doing outside of national parks, which is where we commonly see it. It is cost effective to society, good for animals and good for people.”

In the six years previous to the installation of the underpass at Dead Man’s Flats, the annual cost of collision damage averaged over $125,000. The data for the years after the underpass was put in place showed that the average cost fell to less than $50,000 per year, even after taking the cost of building the underpass into account.

The findings of the study will likely influence the building of similar animal crossings in the future. Hill hopes this will be the case.

“[The study] has shown us that there is really no reason now for us not to be mitigating collisions. There are areas all around Calgary and all around Alberta where we know that there’s high-collision zones,” said Hill. “It’s something that can be a win-win.”

The Miistakis Institute also collaborates with U of C students and professors. Other projects the Miistakis Institute has worked on include studying carnivores in southwestern Alberta and the ecological effects of mountain biking.

“We raise a lot of our own money and develop a lot of our own research projects, but sometimes the projects are in conjunction with professors or students at the university,” said Hill.