A wildlife crossing project on Highway 97 in the Okanogan Valley did not receive funding from the Washington State Legislature.
That’s despite the fact that in April a Washington state Senate- and House-proposed transportation budget included $18 million to build six wildlife underpasses and 11 miles of deer fencing on Highway 97 between Janis Bridge and the town of Riverside.
According to Conservation Northwest, a key advocate of the project, the Legislature “did not resolve disagreements around how to raise revenue for the 16-year Forward Washington transportation projects spending package.”
The $18 million for the Highway 97 project would have come from the Forward Washington package.
“Without agreement from the state for a transportation projects spending package including Safe Passage 97, countless deer and vehicle collisions will continue to occur, with lives at stake,” said Jay Kehne, CNW’s Safe Passage 97 project manager in a news release.
“We are too close to doing something really positive for a rural community in Eastern Washington to let it slip away.”
The money would have allowed the Washington Department of Transportation to continue work along another 11 miles of Highway 97.
Since 2018, CNW has worked to build wildlife crossings under Highway 97. Each year, 350 or more deer are hit and killed on about a 12-mile stretch of the highway, which runs through the Okanogan Valley. Some research indicates the number could be higher.
Those collisions cost about $2 million a year and endanger human and animal life.
The crossing work was imperiled in 2019 when voters approved a measure restricting statewide vehicle registration fees.
According to a CNW news release, the organization will continue to advocate for funding of the project. CNW sees the initial inclusion of the money as a “big win,” said Chase Gunnell, CNW’s spokesman in an email.
“The good news is that our message got through to the Transportation Committees this past session,” Gunnell said . “The Safe Passage 97 project garnered widespread bipartisan support for its public safety and wildlife benefits, thanks to our demonstration at Janis Bridge and the nearly 21,000 messages that local supporters and more than 1,300 Washingtonians sent to legislators this session. We’re confident funding for this win-win project will eventually pass as part of the broader transportation spending package.”
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