New $5 million, animals-only overpass at Parleys Summit is saving wildlife (and drivers) already

Six month after it opened, surveillance cameras have caught deer, elk, moose and the occasional predator walking along the new $5 million Parleys Summit wildlife overpass — good news for both the animals and drivers on Interstate 80.

“It just makes everybody feel great that it’s getting used,” said Scott Root, the central region outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

DWR posted a 36-second video with clips of animals using the overpass near exit 140, which opened in December and is designed to keep wildlife away from cars and trucks speeding across the summit of Parleys Canyon.

And there were a few surprises. Root said he expected to see moose, deer, elk and raccoons crossing, but wasn’t expecting to see bobcats, cougars, coyotes and a yellow-bellied marmot.

“I didn't see that coming,” he said.

“That was the thing that struck me,” agreed Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason. “It's great to see so many different animals using the overpass.”

He said it's too soon to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of the project — UDOT prefers to analyze data over 3-5 years — but the early results are “encouraging.”

“From what we can tell, the number of accidents there is down dramatically,” he said. “At least initially, it appears the investment in safety is paying off. And we expected it to take several years before the animals got used to using it, so this is great.”

According to UDOT, 106 animals were struck and killed in that area in the two years before the overpass opened — 98 deer, three moose, two raccoons, two elk and a cougar.

The overpass was designed with the safety of humans, not just animals, in mind. “If they’re on the freeway, they could cause injury or death to the people in the vehicles that hit them,” Gleason said.

The overpass is about 50 feet wide and 320 feet long, crossing six lanes of traffic. The $5 million cost included 3.5 miles of fencing in both directions on both sides of I-80, funneling wildlife onto the overpass.

Root does have one piece of advice for the public: “Stay away.”

His cameras have caught people walking and skiing across the overpass, “and with the fences, it isn't easy to get up there,” Root said. “It's there for the animals. We want them to get used to it.”

Not only are those folks trespassing, but they could be putting themselves in danger.

“And the last thing we want is for somebody to be up there when a cow moose and her baby are crossing. You’ll be in trouble — she’ll charge you.”