Arizona gets $24M federal grant for wildlife overpass, fencing on I-17 south of Flagstaff

Dec 5, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: Dec 6, 2023, 8:34 am

Sheep cross a wildlife overpass in this file photo from Federal Highway Administration....

The Federal Highway Administration awarded Arizona $24 million for a wildlife overpass, new fencing, cattle guards and other improvements along Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff. (Federal Highway Administration Photo)

(Federal Highway Administration Photo)

PHOENIX — Arizona was awarded $24 million in federal funding Monday for a project designed to make travel safer for motorists and wildlife along Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff.

The Federal Highway Administration grant will go toward an overpass for animals, new fencing, cattle guards and other improvements between Munds Park and Kelly Canyon.

The 8.4-mile stretch of I-17 through the Willard Springs area has been identified as high-priority corridor for elk, which can weigh over 1,000 pounds, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

A 100-foot-wide wildlife bridge will be built at milepost 327.4 to allow elk, deer, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, black bears, mountain lions and other small animals safely cross the highway.

How will wildlife project make travel on I-17 safer?

The upgrades will connect with an Arizona Game and Fish Department project consisting of wildlife fencing along 6 miles of I-17 south of Munds Park, making travel safer over 15 high-risk miles.

“The fencing will keep them off the highway, reduce the likelihood of collisions with vehicles, of course protecting people. And, it will funnel them along the fence until there’s the overpass,” Clay Crowder, a Game and Fish official, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday after a press conference at the I-17 Sunset Point rest area, about 70 miles north of downtown Phoenix.

The I-17 project was one of 19 nationally chosen for the first round of grants totaling $110 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, which is funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt traveled to Arizona to participate in Tuesday’s press conference. He said state officials made a convincing argument to earn the grant money.

“We know that these are incredibly effective at reducing crashes involving wildlife,” Bhatt told KTAR News. “While safety of people is our No. 1 priority, it’s also great that the wildlife gets to their destination as well.”

When will wildlife overpass be built over I-17 south of Flagstaff?

Now that the funding is in place, the Arizona project will have to go through environmental review and other steps before construction can begin.

“We look forward to come back for the groundbreaking and the ribbon-cutting, because we want these projects to get built quickly and on budget,” Bhatt said.

ADOT is seeking funding for two more wildlife overpasses, on I-17 near Kachina Boulevard (about 6 miles south of Flagstaff) and on I-40 west of Parks.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Balin Overstolz-McNair contributed to this report.

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Arizona gets $24M federal grant for wildlife overpass, fencing on I-17 south of Flagstaff