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Safe animal crossings added to Sooke highway design

Public feedback made a difference in many areas of Highway 14 project
New sections of Highway 14 in Sooke will include culverts that double as animal crossings thanks to public feedback. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

Animals are getting their own highway in a highway, as part of the infrastructure improvements along Hwy. 14 in Sooke.

The multi-year project, scheduled for completion in late 2022, will see a high-traffic portion of the route widened to four lanes, a small interchange built at Gillespie Road and a series of culverts doing double duty as animal crossings.

Public feedback initially concentrated on the need for passing lanes and to straighten some particularly curvy sections of road. By the second round of consultations in early 2020, concern for animals in the area became a priority.

In response, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure team working on the project enlarged the drainage and stormwater culverts to accommodate animals. Project manager Darren Englund said culverts work as animal routes since they follow creeks and ravines.

Deer can follow the flowing water through public and private property, and under the highway. In high stormwater months, November and December mostly, the culverts are less passable for the ungulates.

“There is a sharing of the culvert, if you will. When heavy winter water is flowing, they’re not perfect use for the deer,” Englund said.

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Modern culverts are squaring off the old circular steel design in favour of reinforced concrete. The shape is more adaptable because the width doesn’t have to equal the height. The corners also give more vertical clearance, giving space for say, antlers.

Wildlife overpasses are another option that can be useful where there’s lots of public land, but they aren’t ideal around developed areas because they channel wildlife through private land. And they’re expensive.

For places like Sooke, Englund favours culverts because they follow existing water paths and they’re there anyway. Any given kilometre of highway in B.C. can have up to a dozen.

The approximately 1.5-kilometre section of Hwy. 14 will have about 12 culverts, some large enough for deer, cougars and bears, and a handful of smaller ones for raccoons and small mammals to escape traffic and predators.

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When asked why animal crossings weren’t covered in the team’s initial plan, Englund likened it to adopting climate change planning.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, climate change wasn’t taken into account for storm drainage design, for example. Now it’s mandatory, built right into the models.” The same is happening with animal crossings, he said.

The team made other changes due to public feedback. They’d initially proposed a traffic light at Gillespie Road, but locals felt that would counteract the benefit of the new passing lanes. So instead they’re building a mini-interchange, connecting Gillespie to the highway more safely and without stops.

There will also be pedestrian underpasses to bus stops, a park-and-ride and transit stop and a new connecting road between Manzer and Gillespie Roads.

A separate 10-km section of highway west of Sooke near Shirley is being resurfaced and widened to include paved shoulders for pedestrians.

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