Nongovernmental organizations are uniquely positioned to support departments of transportation (DOT) efforts to build effective wildlife infrastructure by filling research gaps, building public and political support, and facilitating fundraising, including access to unconventional sources. Summit County Safe Passages (SCSP) is a collaborative partnership among local, state, and federal agencies; counties and towns; ski areas; and conservation and recreation groups working toward a common vision for preserving landscape connectivity for wildlife and reducing wildlife-vehicle conflict in Summit County, Colorado. In 2017, SCSP completed a county connectivity plan, which was endorsed by the County. The plan identified Interstate 70 at East Vail Pass as the top priority for reducing wildlife-vehicle conflict and restoring connectivity in Summit County. Because East Vail Pass is not a near- or long-term DOT priority for operations or safety improvements, advancing mitigation goals required outside champions to create a stand-alone project. In 2019, because of their involvement in the SCSP plan, ski areas directed mitigation funds to the project’s feasibility study, including identifying critical engineering considerations and evaluating wildlife crossing design alternatives. In 2022, SCSP partners successfully lobbied for the passage of Colorado Senate Bill 151 “Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists” with East Vail Pass as a showcase project. As a result of these efforts, the DOT added the project to its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program four-year priority list and the Transportation Commission allocated $750k in Senate Bill funding towards the design.
This presentation will discuss how SCSP laid the foundation for a collaboration partnership with the Colorado DOT to advance wildlife crossings mitigation on East Vail Pass, and the pivotal steps for creating an effective, non-traditional partnership. This foundation included over five years of camera data collected by community scientists; a systematic planning process, which validated the value of wildlife mitigation investments on East Vail Pass; the early engagement of governmental, industry, and nongovernmental partners through the planning process; and ongoing outreach to residents, visitors, and state and local decision-makers. SCSP continues to have an essential role in pursuing funding opportunities to meet non-federal match eligibility requirements. The County itself entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement to act as the pass-through for all externally raised funds. These three entities – the DOT, the County, and SCSP – represent the three legs of a stool, without which this project could not be completed. Success in Summit County serves as a model for other community-led connectivity projects seeking to enhance a transportation agency’s ability to construct safer roads with the greatest benefits to ecological connectivity and wildlife.