Donaldson will release a final report on her research later this year. VTRC is a joint partnership between the Virginia DOT and the University of Virginia established in 1948.
According to the Virgina DOT, about 200 people die each year in animal-related car crashes out of the nearly 44,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. Approximately 247,000 crashes involved animals in 2000, the latest data available.
Donaldson is evaluating seven underpass structures in Virginia to determine the extent of use by deer and other wildlife, the structural and environmental features that might influence their use, and their effectiveness in reducing deer-vehicle accidents. She receives data from remote digital cameras that capture images based on infrared heat and motion sensors.
Preliminary results show nearly 1,000 deer crossings at three of the sites (deer do not use the other four) and more than 1,000 crossings of smaller mammals, such as raccoons, opossums, coyotes, groundhogs, cats, and even squirrels. The most popular deer crossings are a large box culvert in Fairfax County, designed specifically as a wildlife crossing, and another box culvert near Charlottesville beneath I-64.
“Money spent on wildlife crossings may seem an unnecessary addition to construction costs,” Donaldson says. “However, the savings associated with reduced human injury, mortality and vehicular damage as a result of effective wildlife crossings can offset the cost of crossing installations. While many successful crossing structures cost less than $200,000, studies have estimated the cost of a single human traffic fatality at more than $3 million in lost income, medical costs and property damage.”
Photos of animals using the crossings – billed as the Critter Cam -- are available on the Virginia DOT web site at www.virginiadot.org. Click on “news.”