As the rapid development of the already heavily developed Southern California continues without an apparent end, the region’s most prominent victims of the process may finally be receiving some relief. The formerly rich and diverse wildlife in the region has become much smaller and singular while surviving in shrinking environments surrounded by sprawling highways. Now, environmental conservationists and transportation officials have put together a plan that would allow for wildlife to safely cross highways and allow for easier access to food and potential mates.
The most at-risk of the local wildlife would be the cougars, commonly known as mountain lions, in the area, whose inability to move between habitats cut off by highways has driven them to the brink of extinction. The National Wildlife Federation, who is pushing for the crossing through the “Save L.A. Cougars” movement, revealed that since the National Park Service began studying 60 mountain lions in the region in 2002, 17 of them have been killed while trying to cross the busy highways surrounding Los Angeles. The design of the system has caused the population to plummet to one of the lowest genetic diversity in the entirety of the United States. If the cougar is unable to expand its ecosystem safely, it is unlikely that the species is long for this world.
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For Southern Californians hoping to preserve the species, this new plan could be a game-changer not only for the big cats but also the deer, coyotes and others that call the region home. According to CBS News, the plan is to place an overpass across U.S. 101, allowing for animals to avoid that highway completely. The overpass will mimic the natural ecosystem, creating something of a natural bridge that will maintain the consistency of the animal’s environment as they move over the highway. In a state where tunnels are a much more common solution, this would be only the second overpass in California. With plans for construction only 35 miles away from downtown Los Angeles, it would also be the first overpass of it’s kind to be located near a major metropolis and is on track to be the largest overpass in the world, as it will reach 200 feet above the 10-lane U.S. 101, which sees 300,000 travelers every day.
The majority of the funding for the project will come from private donations, with $13.5 in private funding already raised, according to Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation. The current price tag of the project is expected to be $87 million, with 20 percent of that coming through public funding. Pratt said that naming rights would be on the table if a generous donation were to be offered. With an expected completion date in 2023, it may not be long before Southern California drivers on their way to work will see a lush jungle above them as they enter a tunnel.