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Highway 58: Improvement project should include wildlife crossing | News

Due to poor conditions on the Highway 58 section between Bakersfield and Tehachapi, local residents and other drivers are dissatisfied with increased traffic and delays due to accidents, so there are a number of planned projects. It costs a million dollars and will take several years to complete.

The Keane Pavement Project and the SR58 Truck Climbing Lane Project are two efforts by the California Department of Transportation to solve traffic problems in the region, both of which address issues that were not addressed when the highway was built in the 1960s. Additional investment may be required to resolve. — Barriers created by highways for wildlife.

Nature reserve

Even if the major environmental group, The Nature Conservancy, hasn’t acquired the old Loop Ranch, which is adjacent to the highway about 10 miles west of Tehachapi, the California Environmental Quality Act will impact the planned project on wildlife. Ask Caltrans to consider.

However, at the end of 2021, the fact that the organization acquired a ranch and other adjacent ranches to establish more than 70,000 acres of Frank and Joan Randall Reserve in the Tehachapi Mountains clearly seated as a means of transportation. I am giving. The plan will continue.

Cara Lacey, director of the Connected Lands for the Nature Conservancy, said in an email that Caltrans District 9 staff said, “We will work closely with TNC and CDFW to monitor and investigate multiple species that cross or cannot cross the freeway. I think I’m doing a great job of analyzing 58.

“The Frank and Joan Randall Reserve in the Tehachapi Mountains borders on the work that Caltrans does on the project, so we are a stakeholder in the project and in the process,” she added.

The reserve also explains the importance of the area in its website’s description of the Randall Reserve: “The hills of Tehachapi have long been the lifeline of nature and migrating people … this vast expanse. Land is an important link In a corridor of wildlife that stretches across the west coast of North America, not only in California, but from Mexico to Alaska … Reserves are black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and endangered California condors. In the face of climate change, the region will be more important than ever. “

The organization has been working with Tehachapi for decades, Lacy said.

“We recognize highway 58 as a barrier to movement and have long envisioned the possibility of wildlife crossing under and above the freeway,” she said. A connecting hub for wildlife to move up and down safely and increase driver safety. “

concern

Among the concerns is the previously installed K-rail (concrete barrier) to separate the east and west lanes. The K-rail, intended as a safety feature, can cause problems for wildlife and pose a danger to drivers, Lacy said.

“For example, if an animal crosses and then faces a barrier, it’s valuable to decide how to overcome it in the blink of an eye, and the animal can be trapped and hit the road,” she says. .. “The animal decides whether to jump or return. Both decisions are fatal to the animal and can affect vehicles and drivers that collide with the animal.”

She said Conservancy “has studied roadside culverts with partners in the past, has also done some roadkill studies, and continues to work with scientists and experts in this area.” ..

Lacy said the Tehachapi connection is an important connection that has been sought after in scientific research over the last two decades.

“We have confirmed and reaffirmed that this region and this connection are essential to the functioning of California’s entire ecosystem, so we protect it and connect for nature and people. I’ve been working for it. ”

Wildlife connectivity

According to the Transportation Research Commission of the National Academy of Science and Technology Medicine, the National Wildlife Connectivity Initiative received new support in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act. Recent webins provided by the Commission have been designed to help participants achieve their goals. Engineering and economic decisions to implement effective wildlife crossing and identify engineering solutions to meet the environmental and safety needs of wildlife crossing.

“Often, highway conditions expose wildlife and drivers to collisions, injuries and deaths, and the state’s Department of Transportation mitigates them through wildlife crossing structures,” TRB said.

Lacy said he was excited about the possibility of improving connectivity on the 58th Highway Corridor between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

“For the past four years, Katie Rodriguez of Caltrans District 9 and I, myself, and our team have discussed the possibilities needed to enable an intersection, and have recently conducted research and analysis,” she said. I did. As she opened the door to the possibilities and possibilities of future projects, she began to discuss the need for research and further analysis to determine the best location for future intersections. ”

Deer, mountain lion

According to Lacy, Conservancy and Caltrans staff are coordinating efforts to track animals and their movements, including the use of wildlife cameras in existing Culverts, and a deer survey by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Further analysis is underway and will be adjusted.

“We’re doing separate studies, but we’re sharing information so we can work together to create a system of intersections,” she said.

According to Lacy, the reserve is also closely linked to the University of California, Davis, both the Wildlife Health Center with Dr. Winston Vickers and the Road Ecology Center with Fraser Shilling.

“Dr. Vickers is a mountain lion expert and TNC was able to protect much of the land in the area, so he and his partner and CDFW Justin Delinger will soon be able to understand the mountain lion’s movements. I think CDFW was listed (as an endangered species) in southern California, “she said.

She said providing greater connectivity to diversify the gene pool is one of the ways that animal populations may be saved.

Financing

As shown in a recently published environmental document related to the Keane Pavement project, Caltrans considers potential wildlife crossing as a possible mitigation measure for future truck climbing lane projects.

“Caltrans and its project mitigation measures may or may not be possible to set up intersections without additional funding, so it is important to fund the area together for transportation and wildlife projects. . “

She said the organization wants to bring together a larger group of stakeholders.

“Tehachapi City and (Kern) County are important and necessary stakeholders. As research approaches, we all begin to think together about what the crossroads are and what can be achieved for the safety of nature and people. You can. It will not disrupt the transportation movement as much as possible. “

The April 22 presentation to members of the Bear Valley Springs Wildlife Union is one of the outreach activities planned by TNC, where the organization is working on other groups and will have guided access to the Randall Reserve in the future. I hope to host.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be contacted by her email: claudia@claudiaelliott.net.

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