Wildlife Crossing

Federal grant will fund I-17 wildlife overpass near Flagstaff

Federal grant will fund I-17 wildlife overpass near Flagstaff

I-17 101 traffic interchange

Federal grant will fund I-17 wildlife overpass near Flagstaff

Federal grant will fund I-17 wildlife overpass near Flagstaff

December 4, 2023

Award of $24 million comes from Federal Highway Administration

PHOENIX – The Federal Highway Administration has awarded Arizona a $24 million grant for a wildlife overpass and other improvements designed to reduce crashes involving wildlife and better connect habitats along Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff in northern Arizona. 

The Arizona Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, sought the grant through FHWA’s Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program for improvements along 8.4 miles of I-17 between the Munds Park traffic interchange, about 25 miles south of Flagstaff, and the Kelly Canyon traffic interchange to the north. 

“I am grateful to the Federal Highway Administration for supporting Arizona’s commitment to protecting its residents, visitors and wildlife,” Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs said. “Many drivers use I-17 as a gateway to some of Arizona’s most popular treasures, including the Grand Canyon. While helping keep those travelers safe, this project will support elk, deer and other wildlife that make Arizona so special.”

The I-17 wildlife project is one of 19 nationally to receive funding through the first round of $110 million in grants from FHWA.

“We are pleased to announce the first round of grants under the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program to projects that will significantly reduce the number of collisions between motorists and wildlife,” said Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt, who traveled to Arizona to make the announcement at Sunset Point along I-17. “These roadway safety investments will ensure that motorists and wildlife in Arizona get to their destinations safely and are a win-win for safety and the environment.”

In addition to the I-17 wildlife overpass, which is planned for milepost 327.4 in the Willard Springs area, the project also will include new 8-foot-tall wildlife fencing tying into existing culverts, ramps to help wildlife escape fenced areas and double cattle guards at interchanges. It will connect with a Game and Fish project that will retrofit wildlife fencing along 6 miles of I-17 south from Munds Park that directs wildlife to two existing large bridges. The nearly 15 miles covered by these two safety projects accounted for 58% of crashes involving wildlife between 2018 and 2022 between Stoneman Lake Road and Flagstaff. In this 31.7-mile stretch, around three-quarters of all crashes between vehicles and wildlife involve elk, which can weigh up to 1,100 pounds.

The area between Munds Park and Kelly Canyon is one of three priority areas proposed by the state for new wildlife overpasses because of higher potential for collisions involving wildlife, particularly elk and deer. The other interstate freeway locations identified as potential sites for wildlife overpasses are I-17 near the Kachina Boulevard interchange, about 6 miles south of Flagstaff, and Interstate 40 west of Parks. ADOT and its partners continue to seek funding for projects at the other two priority sites. 

Identified by the federal, state and Coconino County governments as a high priority corridor for elk movement, the 8.4 miles of I-17 through the Willard Springs area currently has no bridges and only one road culvert suitable for use by elk and deer. The wildlife overpass will be 100 feet wide designed for use by elk, deer, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, black bears, mountain lions and smaller animals. 

A projected start date will be determined in the coming months. The project will require completion of final design, including environmental review, project programming and other required steps. This process will be initiated due to the federal grant.

In 2015, FHWA awarded ADOT, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and other partners its Environmental Excellence Award for Excellence in Environmental Leadership for numerous efforts to reduce conflicts between vehicles and wildlife while connecting habitats.

“ADOT has a rich history of coordinating with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and other partners on projects that promote safety for both motorists and wildlife,” ADOT Director Jennifer Toth said. “This grant will advance these efforts in a critical corridor for recreational and commercial travel while helping elk, deer and other creatures whose habitats span northern Arizona.” 

For the project funded by the Federal Highway Administration grant, Game and Fish has committed $1.5 million in matching funds along with $750,000 toward project design. Game and Fish also received a $1 million America the Beautiful Challenge grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that, along with $387,000 in matching funds, will be used for the fence retrofit along I-17 south from Munds Park. 

“As Arizona continues to grow, crossing structures such as wildlife overpasses and underpasses will have the dual benefit of reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions for public safety while also connecting fragmented habitats, allowing wildlife to access vital resources, preserving migratory routes, and maintaining genetic diversity,” said Arizona Game and Fish Department Director Ty Gray. “We’re grateful to the Federal Highway Administration and our sister state agency, the Arizona Department of Transportation, for this opportunity to help ensure a wildlife legacy for future generations.”

Other notable collaborations between ADOT, Arizona Game and Fish Department and partners including the U.S. Forest Service and Regional Transportation Authority in Pima County include: 

  • A reconstruction of 17 miles of US 93 in far northwestern Arizona featuring three wildlife overpasses and two bridged underpasses in desert bighorn sheep habitat, complemented by three underpasses on State Route 68 between Bullhead City and Golden Valley.
  • A system of crossing and fencing on SR 260 east of Payson designed to reduce crashes involving elk and deer. 
  • A 6-mile reconstruction of SR 77 (Oracle Road) north of Tucson that included an  overpass and underpass connecting wildlife habitats in the Santa Catalina and Tortolita mountains. 
  • Two wildlife underpasses and 6 miles of fencing added to SR 86 between Tucson and Sells.

How ADOT works with desert tortoises

How ADOT works with desert tortoises


How ADOT works with desert tortoises

How ADOT works with desert tortoises

By Mary Currie / ADOT Communications
July 17, 2023
A desert tortoise eats a shrub in the desert. Saguaro cactuses are in the background.

We’re talking tortoises today at the Arizona Department of Transportation. 

Did you know that ADOT helps support tortoise populations by paying attention to where these shelled reptiles may burrow near highways. Our biologists follow steps to help protect them, like building fences to keep them off the roads and guide them to places to cross safely. 

Before highway construction projects begin, environmental specialists survey the area to identify tortoises that may be living there. Construction and maintenance workers are trained to look for tortoises, too. See how ADOT works as an environmental steward in this video.

ADOT’s Biology Team Lead Joshua Fife began as a college intern working with desert tortoises. He spent the majority of his time training with two experienced biologists conducting long-term projects monitoring desert tortoises. One of the projects studied tortoise movement along US 93 north of Wickenburg for ADOT, and that led to his career with us.

Fife said, “Desert tortoises became very important to me, and It means a lot to me that ADOT is a part of desert tortoise conservation. Desert tortoises are truly amazing creatures, and we want to make sure they are around for many generations to come.” 

Managing wildlife along the state highway system is a partnership between ADOT, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and others whose work helps tortoises thrive next to  busy roadways. Click here to learn about desert tortoises

If you liked this, ADOT Kids has all sorts of educational stories, activities and videos to interest kids and adults this summer — and don’t miss the color-by-numbers activity we created to make you smile.


Oracle Road project benefits wildlife, motorists and cyclists

Oracle Road project benefits wildlife, motorists and cyclists


Oracle Road project benefits wildlife, motorists and cyclists

Oracle Road project benefits wildlife, motorists and cyclists

June 2, 2016

State Route 77 (Oracle Road)

By Caroline Carpenter / ADOT Communications

The State Route 77 (Oracle Road) project west of Mt. Lemmon not only adds travel lanes for drivers but has something for bicyclists and wildlife. The six-mile long construction runs from Tangerine Road to the Pinal County line. The $33.9 million project will be completely paved and striped this summer. Here's a rundown:

Improvements for cyclists

Improvements include an additional 12-foot-wide travel lane in each direction, making the road six lanes across. Ten-foot-wide shoulders (7-feet-wide with curb in Catalina) have been added to allow bicyclists to use the wider shoulders and the new shared-used path on the east side of Oracle Road from Wilds Road to Eagle Crest Ranch Boulevard.


Wildlife crossings


The first wildlife overpass structure in southern Arizona has been constructed as part of this project to allow wildlife to migrate safely between the Santa Catalina and Tortolita mountains. It is located south of Wilds Road. A wildlife underpass was also built south of North Big Wash Overlook Drive. The Regional Transportation Authority funded both wildlife crossings.


Additional SR 77 improvements


There are several other improvements motorists along this stretch of road will notice:

  • Raised-center medians and left-turn lanes in the Catalina area
  • Retaining walls Sound barriers
  • Traffic signal improvements
  • Drainage improvements

ADOT nationally recognized for environmental leadership

ADOT nationally recognized for environmental leadership


ADOT nationally recognized for environmental leadership

ADOT nationally recognized for environmental leadership

September 29, 2015

By Dustin Krugel
ADOT Office of Public Information

Learn about the many methods used by ADOT to prevent wildlife from entering roadway in this video from May 2014.

The Arizona Department of Transportation, which has been nationally recognized for its creative and innovative solutions to promote safe travel while protecting wildlife and connecting ecosystems, received another accolade for its leadership in developing wildlife crossing structures in Arizona.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration recently awarded ADOT and its partner Animal Road Crossing Solutions this year’s Environmental Excellence Award for Excellence in Environmental Leadership.

Arizona has long been considered a leader in wildlife connectivity issues. ADOT and multiple partner agencies, including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, collaborated 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.

“ADOT has a long record of innovative and successful wildlife accommodations as part of construction projects,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski. “While ADOT is not a wildlife-management agency, we are a transportation safety agency and we partner with other agencies, such as the Arizona Game and Fish Department, in an effort to preserve and protect wildlife, while reducing vehicle-wildlife collisions.”

According to data collected by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, more than 15,000 crossings by 16 species of animals were recorded at six underpasses along SR 260 in Arizona over a seven-year period. In addition, more than 4,300 desert bighorn sheep crossed three overpasses on US 93 in Arizona in a two-year span.

In addition to preserving wildlife, these specialized crossings protect drivers from crashes with some of the state’s big game.

A fencing project linking three existing crossing structures on SR 260 reduced elk-vehicle collisions by 98 percent over a six-year span.

Wildlife crossing structures and fencing can greatly lessen the impact of traffic because, together, they provide safe linkages across highways, helping ensure stable local and regional wildlife populations.

Selected by an independent panel, the Environmental Excellence Award is the Federal Highway Administration’s biennial recognition of innovative efforts to preserve the environment while enhancing America’s highways.

“Building a 21st-century transportation system that is cost-efficient and protects the environment requires creativity and innovation,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These awards demonstrate FHWA’s support of projects that approach current and future transportation challenges with new solutions.”

Additional information about the 2015 Environmental Excellence Award recipients can be found online.

Check it out: Wildlife underpass installation

Check it out: Wildlife underpass installation


Check it out: Wildlife underpass installation

Check it out: Wildlife underpass installation

April 30, 2014

We’ve got a fascinating video to share with you today that shows the installation of a wildlife underpass on SR 86.

This particular underpass consists of 15 total pre-cast arches, each weighing in at about 22 tons (in case you’re wondering why you don’t see each of those 15 arches, the time-lapse video shows the installation of just one side of the underpass).

The precast arches were dropped into place, but not until quite a bit of work beforehand...

The underpass installation, which was also part of a widening project along SR 86, took place after crews constructed traffic detour, completed excavation and poured the footers and foundation.

If this video grabs your interest, you’ll want to stay tuned. Next week, we have a more in-depth video and blog post coming your way about wildlife crossings.

ADOT, Game and Fish host major environmental conference

ADOT, Game and Fish host major environmental conference


ADOT, Game and Fish host major environmental conference

ADOT, Game and Fish host major environmental conference

June 25, 2013

Transportation planners and engineers have a lot to consider when designing or improving a roadway in Arizona.

It’s not just about getting people from one place to the next – safety, planning priorities, community concerns, fiscal constraints all get taken into account (along with so many other factors).

There’s also a big relationship between transportation planning and the environment. In fact, that connection is so important that it’s the focus of a pretty big conference being held in Arizona this week…

The International Conference on Ecology and Transportation focuses on that correlation while showcasing research and best practices from the field. Held every two years, ICOET brings the participation of hundreds of transportation and ecology professionals from the U.S. and countries worldwide.

ADOT's booth at this year's ICOET conference showcases recent efforts.

You might remember that we blogged about the conference nearly two years ago when it was first announced ADOT, along with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, would host this year’s event.

Hosting the conference gives our state some really good exposure and the chance to show how ADOT and its partners not only build and maintain Arizona’s transportation system, but do so in a way that is sensitive to the surrounding environment.

Arizona’s wide range of ecology makes it an ideal state to host the International Conference on Ecology and Transportation. State transportation planners must take into account diverse wildlife populations and varied topography in the low and high desert plateaus as well as rocky and tree-covered mountain terrain when planning Arizona’s highway system.

During ICOET, ADOT and Game and Fish will have the opportunity to showcase joint efforts that consider the environment during the planning and building stages of transportation infrastructure. One such effort was the construction of wildlife crossing bridges and culverts as part of improvements along US 93 near the Nevada state line to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and desert bighorn sheep. Conference participants will also learn more about wildlife crossings along SR 260, context-sensitive highway improvements in Sedona and sustainability and preservation efforts for transportation solutions at Grand Canyon National Park.

To learn more about ADOT’s efforts, check out our previous blog posts. For additional information on this year’s conference, visit icoet.net.

US 93 to Hoover Dam project earns top transportation award

US 93 to Hoover Dam project earns top transportation award


US 93 to Hoover Dam project earns top transportation award

US 93 to Hoover Dam project earns top transportation award

July 10, 2012

A look at the wildlife crossing in action. (Photo courtesy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department)

We just got some really exciting news about the US 93 project (you remember, it’s the one that improved about 15 miles of roadway south of the Hoover Dam – we wrote about it here and here

It was announced yesterday that the project won a regional award in the 2012 America’s Transportation Awards competition – more specifically, the project was selected as the winner in the “Best Use of Innovation, Medium Project” category!

The America’s Transportation Awards competition is sponsored by AASHTO, AAA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It was created in 2008 to recognize outstanding transportation projects accomplished each year by state Departments of Transportation.

Besides “Best Use of Innovation” other categories include “Ahead of Schedule” and “Under Budget.” All the categories are divided by size, depending on the cost of the project.

Arizona’s award was announced during the annual Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO) conference. California, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Texas also were recognized with awards.

Some background on the project
ADOT and its project team – including Federal Highway Administration, Arizona Game and Fish Department, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, AMEC Environment and Infrastructure, Bureau of Reclamation and FNF Construction – recognized a critical need for creative innovation during early design work preparing for the highway widening of the last segment from Interstate 40 in Kingman to the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge.

Collectively, they decided the best solution was to construct new overpasses that protected the safety of motorists and provided a passage for the desert bighorn sheep.

“ADOT and its partnering agencies worked together to achieve a common goal, which was to build a safe, modern four-lane highway for motorists, that also accounted for the unique challenges presented by the state’s geography and wildlife that make that area their home,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski.

In late 2010, ADOT completed construction of the $71.3 million project, which widened the existing roadway section from two lanes to four. Other significant highway improvements included a new trailhead, scenic overlooks and three wildlife crossings, which not only provide a crossing for the native desert bighorn sheep, but also protection for motorists.

ADOT has dedicated nearly half a billion dollars since 1998 to widen and improve US 93 from Wickenburg to the Hoover Dam. The long-term vision is to transform this route into a four-lane divided highway through its entire 200-mile stretch.

US 93 wildlife crossing honored with environmental award

US 93 wildlife crossing honored with environmental award


US 93 wildlife crossing honored with environmental award

US 93 wildlife crossing honored with environmental award

September 13, 2011

US 93 - Wildlife Crossing
          Photos courtesy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department

Over the past several years, ADOT has worked to transform the highly traveled US 93 between Wickenburg to the Hoover Dam from a two-lane highway to an environmentally friendly four-lane, divided highway.

A project of this scale will always present its share of issues, but widening the final section – from Kingman to the Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge – provided ADOT with an especially unique challenge …

That final stretch also happened to be the stomping grounds of the country’s largest contiguous herd of desert bighorn sheep.

Without some sort of solution, motorist safety would be at risk from the substantially increased chance of wildlife-vehicle collisions. But the sheep still needed to be able to cross the highway in order to reach essential resources on both sides.

Wildlife overpasses were thought to be the obvious fix … but, where should they be built along this 15-miles of new roadway?

To answer that question, ADOT worked with a number of state and federal agencies in a collaborative partnership to seek locations where the sheep were most likely to cross the highway. The Arizona Game and Fish Department, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Federal Highway Administration were all part of the effort.

The team was able to track the animals by placing electronic collars on them and using global positioning system tracking units to trace their movements over an extended period of time.

This research helped identify the most appropriate crossing locations for the herd. Three specially designed overpasses for bighorn sheep – the first of their kind in Arizona and the lower 48 states – were constructed, along with fencing, as part of the highway expansion.

The project has been successful. Cameras installed on the crossing bridges captured the desert bighorn sheep using the new overpasses, which are 100-feet wide and 203-feet long and the Federal Highway Administration awarded ADOT one of its top environmental honors, the 2011 Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative Award, for the successful completion of this project.

ADOT’s Director of Environmental Services Todd Williams says the project was truly a joint effort of the multiple agencies involved.

“Without their support and teamwork, we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we did,” he said. “This new section of divided highway in this environmentally sensitive area delicately addressed two critical issues: the safety of the traveling public and the need to preserve the livelihood of the Desert Bighorn Sheep, which are native to the Black Mountains. These new wildlife overpasses helped accomplish both objectives on this project.”