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Beginning today, March 12, Colorado Department of Transportation and Sema Construction workers will begin construction of a wildlife underpass on U.S. Highway 285 from the Highway 285/24 intersection at Johnson Village to Nathrop. The $3.5 million project is expected to be completed by mid-July.

In conjunction with the wildlife underpass, the project will include widening the highway to accommodate a new left turn lane for southbound Highway 285 traffic turning on C.R. 301 at Fisherman’s Bridge.

Transportation officials announced expected construction hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, although there may be occasional extended hours during weekdays for specific tasks related to the underpass. Officials do not expect to conduct construction activities during weekends.

Safety issues resulting from wildlife crossing the highway are well-documented, with approximately 70 deer killed by automobiles in this area in the past two years. Around 70 percent of all reported crashes in Chaffee County are wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Studies conducted by CDOT show that wildlife crossings coupled with fencing can reduce collisions by over 75 percent.

The wildlife underpass will be roughly 85 feet long, 12 feet tall and 32 feet wide. Plans for the project indicate CDOT will install an 8¼-foot-tall deer fencing guide to help channel animals toward the underpass and away from highway crossings. The fence will stretch from ¼ mile south of the underpass to approximately 1 mile north of the underpass.

In addition to the underpass and fencing, CDOT will add “jump-outs” – one-way earthen ramps that animals can use to get back over the fence to safety in the event they wander between the fencing and the highway.

Work crews will also install deer guards, which function like wide cattle guards, at highway accesses. Officials say they will also construct under-the-highway crossings for smaller mammals as a part of the project.