The Targhee Pass Environmental Assessment fails to recommend the safest alternative or the best for wildlife and fails to assess all available data on wildlife-vehicle collisions. Further, it fails to plan adequately for increased traffic over the next 40 or more years.

Jean Bjerke

Jean Bjerke

Idaho Transportation Department states its goal is “a safer road,” but they analyzed five alternatives and failed to select the safest.

ITD acknowledges that Targhee Pass “bisects wildlife movements” of numerous large animals, and ITD states the importance of “enhancing wildlife movement” when they widen and improve the highway. But they analyzed five alternatives and failed to select the one with the highest wildlife benefit.

ITD selected the alternative with only animal detection systems despite the fact that Federal Highway Administration calls this technology “experimental” and ITD itself admits the technology is “ever-evolving.”

Research at the Western Transportation Institute shown that wildlife detection systems are less effective than crossing structures in reducing collisions with wildlife. Animal detection systems are less effective than wildlife crossings because they rely on changing driver behavior instead of keeping animals off the roadway. Drivers don’t always cooperate with what we want them to do. And the detection systems don’t always work. Some systems installed at great expense have had to be dismantled because they didn’t work and were so expensive to maintain.

In their own example of a system in Switzerland, ITD states the system was turned off during daylight hours so as not to pick up false readings from human movements. ITD fails to address whether the systems they propose for Targhee Pass would have to be turned off during the day because of false alerts due to recreational use by ATVs and snowmobiles in the borrow pits along the highway — which happens all the time. If the system has to be turned off during daylight hours it would defeat the whole purpose.

In their discussion of the safety risk of wildlife on the road, ITD relies on “crash data” reported to law enforcement. However, the Federal Highway Administration estimates there are in fact 3 to 6 times as many actual collisions with large wildlife than crash data reported to law enforcement. ITD wrongly chose not to use more complete, more recent data on wildlife-vehicle collisions, even though it is available from Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The Executive Summary of the Federal Highway Administration Report to Congress on Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction of 2008 states: “State and local transportation agencies are looking for ways to meet the needs of the traveling public, maintain human safety, and conserve wildlife.”

In the Targhee Pass Environmental Assessment, Idaho Transportation Department failed to select the alternative that best accomplishes any of these goals.

Jean Bjerke is a 20-year resident and homeowner in Island Park who works as a nature photographer.

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