SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS (KPIX 5) – Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz Mountains is not just a busy commuter route, but also a busy pathway for wildlife. Caltrans is set to build a tunnel to protect animals from being struck by cars on the route.
The tunnel would be built at the infamous Laurel Curve, which is not just dangerous for drivers, but is downright deadly for wildlife.READ MORE: Smash-And-Grab Thieves Hit San Jose Eastridge Mall Jewelry Store; 5 Sought
For years, researchers have tracked how animals are drawn to this particular spot because of the shape of the terrain, and then try to dash across four lanes of traffic.
Over the span of 15 years on Highway 17, at least 55 deer and mountain lions have died.
“They’re trying to get from one wild place to another, they’re trying to procreate, they’re trying to continue the species, and this road is killing them,” said Stephen Slade of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County.
Slade said the trust purchased 463 acres of land on both sides of the tunnel, paving the way for Caltrans to build the wildlife tunnel.READ MORE: Investigation Finds Vallejo Officer's Use of Deadly Force Not 'Reasonable'
“So we’re trying to solve that problem by giving them a safe route under the freeway,” Slade told KPIX 5. “Which also means that people on the freeway are not in danger of hitting deer or mountain lions or bobcats, all the animals who are hit at this spot.”
Wildlife crossings are rare in California. The first standalone project was back in 2008, on highway 89 through Kyburz Flats.
Slade said the Laurel Curve project would be looked to as blueprint for other crossings throughout the state.
“So it feels great to have it no longer be in doubt. This is gonna happen,” he said. “There’s a lot of frustrations when you’re trying to protect nature. And this is a great victory.”MORE NEWS: San Francisco Lights Up GG Park Christmas Tree After Darkest Year of Pandemic
The crossing is expected to be complete in 2021.