Summit County Awarded $725,000 for Wildlife Crossings on I-70

Funding will enable design and planning to improve wildlife connectivity and driver safety

SUMMIT COUNTY - The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced their 2024 RESTORE Grant Program funding awards, which included $450,000 for Summit County to advance the project design for the East Vail Pass Wildlife Crossing Project. Combined with $275,000 in matching funds leveraged from the Colorado Wildlife Safe Passages Fund (SB22-151), this NFWF award brings a total of $725,000 to advance project design. 

"We are incredibly grateful for these funds that will be dedicated to the East Vail Pass Wildlife Crossing Project" said Summit County Commissioner Nina Waters. "This is an important highway improvement strategy to be implemented right in our backyard. It will protect our beloved wildlife populations and improve motorist safety on the I-70 mountain corridor." 

Summit County applied for funding in collaboration with Summit County Safe Passages (SCSP), a collaborative group of community members including the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado Parks and Wildlife, representatives from Summit County, and other non-profit organizations.  

In 2020, SCSP, in partnership with the US Forest Service, completed a feasibility study identifying a need for more wildlife crossing infrastructure along the east Vail Pass section of I-70. The study recommended the construction of two wildlife underpasses and one overpass along the westbound lanes of I-70 between Cooper Mountain and Vail Pass to improve wildlife passage and reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.  

“Since 2017, our small but mighty group of committed volunteers has envisioned creating safe passages for wildlife to move through Colorado’s central Rocky Mountains long-since severed by the bustling I-70 corridor,” said Julia Kintsch, board chair for Summit County Safe Passages. “Funding support from NFWF and Colorado’s Safe Passages Fund represents a major milestone on the path to reconnecting the East Vail Pass landscape for generations to come.”  

Currently, there are large bridges under the eastbound lanes but wildlife seeking to access habitat on both sides of the interstate cross the westbound lanes at-grade. Because of the high volume of traffic, few animals attempt these crossings; those that do risk being hit by passing vehicles. The two underpasses and one overpass identified by the study would allow wildlife including elk, deer, moose, black bear and even Canada Lynx to safely and successfully make the crossing.  

In 2022, CDOT engaged a consultant team to initiate the engineering design, following the completion of the feasibility study, which was undertaken with funding from Vail Resorts, Arapahoe Basin, and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation.  

"The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and our partners are proud to help catalyze such a significant landscape connectivity effort,” said Chris West, Rocky Mountain Regional Director for NFWF. “In addition to the clear ecological benefits associated with this project, we hope that upon completion it will serve as an ongoing representation to the millions of travelers utilizing I-70 demonstrating how important our wildlife resources are to this region." 

The combination of the NFWF award and matching money from the Colorado Safe Passages Fund will allow CDOT to advance towards final design. The total project cost for design and construction is estimated at $32 million.  

“Since its passage in 2022, the Colorado Wildlife Safe Passages Fund has been instrumental in leveraging state, federal, and private foundation dollars to construct wildlife crossings in important places like I-70 East Vail Pass,” said Michelle Cowardin, Wildlife Movement Coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Co-Chair of the Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance.  

About RESTORE Colorado: The RESTORE Colorado program is a partnership between NFWF and other conservation funders, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Great Outdoors Colorado, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Gates Family Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Cargill, Nestlé, Chevron and Oxy. 

This is a joint press release with Summit County Safe Passages. 

Contacts: 

Sarah Wilkinson,Summit County Interim Public Information Officer

Julia KintschSummit County Safe Passages

A moose alongside I-70

Moose alongside an existing bridge on I-70 at East Vail Pass. Credit: Rocky Mountain Wild and Denver Zoo