(CBS4) – Bears, elk and other animals are already using the wildlife underpasses along Interstate 25 between Colorado Springs and Denver. The installation of these underpasses were in collaboration with CDOT through the I-25 South Gap project.

The wildlife mitigation system includes four new wildlife underpasses and one refurbished one. Twenty-eight miles of fencing along the highway helps to guide the animals to the areas where they can safely make it under the interstate.

(credit: Jason Clay/CPW)

“The goal was to be able to provide safe and reliable travel for motorists going between Denver and Colorado Springs and also provide the same for wildlife that use the habitats in that area,” explained Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Jason Clay.

Clay says, since May of 2017, nearly 200 animals have been hit by motorists along that stretch of I-25. In June an 18-year-old woman was killed after she struck an elk near Castle Pines.

“We knew from the data looking at the numbers that there was a lot of wildlife and vehicle collisions, which is very dangerous for motorists and the loss of wildlife,” Clay said. “There is a lot of momentum going, not just in Colorado but across the nation, in providing safe passage and connecting habitats, and this was a very good collaboration between our agencies, and on that, we are already finding to be very successful.”

The $20 million system is in place with the goal of reducing collisions by 90%. The underpasses are lined with sticks and vegetation to replicate a natural landscape and are 100 to 300-feet wide to help animals feel comfortable passing through.

“Elk are really skittish about using areas, especially confined areas,” Clay explained. “The width of them allows the elk to see through the entirety of the passage. Some of those were dog legs or culverts that were previously there for drainage purposes, and so these were constructed specifically with that sight in mind to allow a lot of the big game species to pass through.”

The system is similar to wildlife overpasses found along Highway 9 near Kremmling, where studies have shown the mitigation system has reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by 90%.

“Which is tremendous, and we are expecting to see the same,” Clay said.

With 59 cameras installed about the South Gap stretch, Clay said they will be able to study how species react to and use the wildlife mitigation underpasses for future projects.

Makenzie O'Keefe