RTA plan prioritizes wildlife protections

The voter-approved Regional Transportation Authority plan is about more than roads, bridges, and bike lanes.

Among the many aspects of the RTA plan is a responsibility for the stewardship of nature where our projects intersect with the Sonoran Desert wildlife habitat.

“We’re a part of the community and we want our work to reflect community values,” said RTA Executive Director Farhad Moghimi. “That’s why the RTA invests in wildlife linkages and structures to help keep roads safer for wildlife and motorists.”

Wildlife crossing under Oracle Road in northern Oro Valley.
Wildlife crossing tunnel beneath Oracle Road in northern Oro Valley.

Wildlife crossings can be in the form of roadway overpasses, underpasses or enhanced drainage structures to allow animals to safely traverse the man-made barriers. Such linkages and crossings are often integrated with the roadway design of RTA improvement projects.

These wildlife crossing improvements provide connectivity for a wide variety of desert wildlife including coyotes, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, javelina, desert tortoise and snakes. The connections not only help prevent crashes that are dangerous to people and animals, but they also allow wildlife to access their natural habitats safely.

In the past, transportation planning typically didn’t include considerations for wildlife protection. Regional collaboration and broad public input led to the inclusion of this safety measure.

RTA funds have helped pay for numerous wildlife structures, the most prominent being an overpass over north Oracle Road in Oro Valley. This structure spans a busy state highway where animal-vehicle collisions were commonplace and was built when the Arizona Department of Transportation widened the road from four lanes to six lanes in 2016.  

The $11 million in RTA funding for this project also included overpass fencing to direct animals to the safe crossing sites as well as constructing underpasses beneath the highway to aid animals traversing the washes.

But not all wildlife structures are constructed on such grand scales.

A recent project in Oro Valley, built through cooperation with town officials, the Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, sought to protect wildlife and minimize animal-human conflicts in a neighborhood.

Rather than build high walls or fences on either side of Oracle Road, local agencies worked with neighbors to find a different solution. The answer was to install gates across two neighborhood roads to keep wildlife in the Big Wash corridor and prevent it from running across Oracle. The gates are vehicle-activated since they span public streets.

Other projects supported with RTA funds include:

  • Wildlife crossings on State Highway 86 near Kitt Peak
  • Bat boxes on various bridges in the region
  • Wildlife crossings and fencing on Twin Peaks Road, La Cholla Boulevard and Tangerine Road

The combination of all these improvements show that the RTA’s regional transportation plan approved by the voters in 2006 is more than just a roadway plan, it also has a major environmental benefit as well.