State researchers are testing out several safety projects in central Virginia after spending two years watching how wildlife behaves along the roadside.
“We have a huge problem with deer crashes in the state,” said Bridget Donaldson, Virginia Transportation Research Council senior research scientist.
Fifty-four cameras caught bears and deer along the interstate. Deer cause about 160 collisions every year on Interstate 64 between Waynesboro and Charlottesville. Bears are responsible for about five collisions.
Bears off of Interstate 64. Photo courtesy of Bridget Donaldson.
“They use it for feeding. They even use it for mating. We have a few photos of deer sleeping right on the roadside. So it's part of their regular habitat there,” said Donaldson.
VDOT is now seeing if something as simple as a fence can keep wildlife out of the way of traffic. The collision repair crew at Taylor’s Auto Body Shop in Charlottesville is keeping busy from crashes caused by wildlife.
“Right now, we have about 50 cars in progress and about 20 of them are deer hits,” said Marcie Llera of Taylor's Auto Body Shop.
Llera says one repair on a car comes to about $5,800.
“It can do a lot of damage. We've seen vehicles in here where it totals the vehicle,” said Llera.
Hundreds of animals used underpasses, including the Mechums River Bridge and this box Culvert in Ivy. That's where VDOT will test out an eight-foot tall fence.
Crews have already started clearing some of the debris from along the interstate. Next, they'll build a fence a half a mile in each direction from the Ivy exit with the goal of funneling the wildlife underneath the interstate instead of across it.
“Roads have a big effect on habitat fragmentation, and so if we can connect the sides of the road with underpasses it makes it better for drivers and for wildlife,” said Donaldson.
Message boards over the interstate are also warning drivers of the danger of deer. “We're hoping those can kind of slow drivers down, look around and become more vigilant,” said Donaldson.
Llera is glad to see VDOT taking steps to keep wildlife out of traffic.
“It's a safety concern for everybody when they're driving, so I think that would really help,” said Llera.
VDOT also plans to install fencing in the spring to guide wildlife to a crossing at Mechums River. Researchers will study those stretches of interstate for another two years to see if the fencing works to reduce the number of collisions with deer and bears.
We would like to thank NBC 29 for reprint permission.