Groundbreaking is planned for next month on what is billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing, a bridge over a major Southern California highway that will provide more roaming space for mountain lions and other animals surrounded by urban sprawl.
A ceremony marking the start of construction for the stretch above US 101 near Los Angeles will take place on Earth Day, April 22, the National Wildlife Federation announced.
The bridge will provide a safe route for big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures to open up space in the Santa Monica Mountains and better access to food and potential mates, said Beth Pratt of the wildlife federation.
“Crosses like this are nothing new,” Pratt said, noting there was one outside Yosemite for frogs. “This one is historic because we put it on top of one of the busiest highways in the world.”
He helped organize the project along with other conservationists and state transport officials.
Pratt said the bridge will be the first of its kind near the world’s largest and largest metropolis, spanning 200 feet over 10 lane highways and feeder roads just 35 miles northwest of downtown LA.
Construction will take place mostly at night and will not require the long-term closure of freeway 101, officials said. It is targeted for completion in early 2025.
The $90 million price tag will be covered by about 60% private donations, with the remainder coming from public funds set aside for conservation purposes. The range will be named Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, for the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million.
Governor Gavin Newsom called the project an “inspiring example” of public-private partnership.
“California’s diversity of native species and ecosystems has earned the state recognition as a global biodiversity hotspot. In the face of extreme climate impacts, it is more important than ever that we work together to protect our rich natural heritage,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday.
The star of the fundraising campaign is the P-22 mountain lion. Famous for traveling across two freeways and making the huge Los Angeles park his home, the big cat has become a symbol of the shrinking genetic diversity of wild animals that must remain trapped by widespread development or risk becoming road killers.
Scientists tracking cougars equipped with GPS collars found for decades that the highway largely restricted the animals in the mountains that ran along the Malibu coast and across central LA to Griffith Park, where the P-22 settled.
Despite being the face of the project, the P-22 was unlikely to use the bridge as it was confined to parks many miles away. But many of his relatives could benefit, Pratt said.
Around 300,000 car trips a day stretch from the 101 in Agoura Hills, a small town surrounded by a patchwork of protected forest that will connect the new intersection.
Drivers in the Liberty Canyon area will speed under a 165-foot-wide bridge with shrubbery and trees growing on it, seamlessly joining the hillsides on both sides of the trail.
The architects designed the topography to be indistinguishable from the scenery on either side. Berms and basins with elevated edges will block out sound and light from the pathways below.
Wildlife crossings – bridges and tunnels – are common in western Europe and Canada. The famous Banff National Park in Alberta runs along the Trans-Canada Highway and is frequently used by bears, moose and moose.
The Los Angeles-area bridge has enjoyed near-universal support, unusual for public works projects. The draft environmental impact document received nearly 9,000 comments – with only 15 against, according to the wildlife federation.
Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
The most important insurance news, in your inbox every weekday.
Get the insurance industry’s trusted newsletter