Local News

DOT Tracks Wildlife To Build Safer Highway

Posted October 28, 2003 2:29 a.m. EST

— Wildlife on the move this fall will have three new safe passageways following the completion of special underpasses by the

North Carolina Department of Transportation

as part of the U.S. 64 widening project in Washington County.

During phase two of the project, the Wildlife Commission and the University of Tennessee cooperated on a radio-telemetry study to determine black bear habitat use, home range dynamics and population characteristics prior to the beginning of highway construction.

To protect the areas directly adjacent to the underpass entrances, the North Carolina DOT purchased five acres of land along the north and southbound ends of each crossing.

After the completion of U.S. 64 in late 2004, a follow-up study will be conducted to determine how black bear habitat use patterns and population characteristics change with the establishment of the new four-lane highway and the three underpasses.

The DOT plans to widen Highway 15-501 in Durham to six lanes beginning in 2005, in part to accommodate wildlife. At New Hope Creek, the plan includes a new 8-foot-tall bridge.

Environmentalists and politicians from Durham and Orange County asked the DOT to make the planned bridge 2 feet taller to better accommodate deer, other wildlife and eventually a greenway.

The state agreed to raise the bridge.

But it also raised the price tag for the project from $1.9 million to $3.1 million.

The state's first wildlife underpasses were constructed as part of the planning and design of I-26 in Madison County.

Two wildlife underpasses were built during a series of grading contracts that began in 1996. The culverts have been completed for several years, with confirmed reports that bears and other smaller animals have been using the crossings.