KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Safe Passage Fund Coalition has officially launched the I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project.

Artist’s rendering of a bridge for wildlife to cross Interstate 70, to be built near Vail, Colorado, photo

In part, the collaborative effort aims at creating wildlife crossings, including wildlife overpasses and underpasses, along 28 miles of I-40 at the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Around 26,000 vehicles per day drive the stretch of I-40 through the Pigeon River Gorge, which sits just outside the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The coalition wants to make the stretch of interstate a safer place for wildlife and humans alike.
Defenders of Wildlife, a member group of the coalition, said crashes involving wildlife are on the rise in the U.S. and end up costing around $12 billion in damage each year.

“Often wildlife crossing structures pay for themselves in reducing the costs of these collisions,” the group said.

The Safe Passage Coalition is made up of the Conservation Fund, Wildlands Network, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife and the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The coalition is in the process of collecting data on how to best implement the project and working to raise project funding.