This Is What the Proposed I-40 Wildlife Overpass Might Look Like

If funded, the 1-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project aims to install a series of overpasses along I-40 on the Tennessee-North Carolina border just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (stock photo)

If funded, the I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project aims to install a series of overpasses along I-40 on the Tennessee-North Carolina border just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (stock photo)

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The Safe Passage Fund Coalition has officially launched the I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project.

If funded, the project aims to create animal bridges, wildlife overpasses and underpasses along 28 miles of I-40 along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

The I-40 interstate is located just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

According to the, 26,000 vehicles pass through the 28-mile stretch of highway in the Pigeon River Gorge daily. And wildlife-vehicle collision costs add up to $12 billion in the U.S. annually.

National Geographic estimates that the average cost of a deer-vehicle collision runs at about $8,190. An elk-related collision can cost upwards of $25,319.

The goal of the project would be to provide safe passage to wildlife and reduce costly animal-related crashes along the heavily trafficked stretch of road.

Fencing would also be installed to help guide the wildlife across the bridge.

Wildlife crossings are popping up all over the world, like this one in Switzerland, and have proven to be effective in reducing animal-related vehicle crashes (stock photo)
Wildlife crossings are popping up all over the world, like this one in Switzerland, and have proven to be effective in reducing animal-related vehicle crashes (stock photo)

Do animal bridges and wildlife crossings actually work?

Building animal bridges and wildlife crossings isn’t a new concept.

The earliest recorded man-made animal bridge was erected in France in the 1950s. And since then, they’ve been cropping up all over the globe.

Arizona has installed over a dozen underpasses and overpasses near Flagstaff and Payson for their elk and bighorn sheep since the early 2000s.

According to AZCentral, the multi-million dollar project successfully reduced elk-vehicle collisions by 90 percent.

These findings are consistent with’s calculations that wildlife crossing structures have been shown to reduce motorist collisions involving wildlife by up to 97 percent.

Another example of a multi-lane wildlife overpass (stock photo)
Wildlife overpasses like this one are also believed to promote habitat and population preservation by allowing for safe passage to animals who seasonally breed and forage for food like black bears and elk (stock photo)

A lack of crossing opportunities may also lead to habitat destruction and fragmentation

Black bears, elk and other seasonal breeders and foragers naturally roam to seek out feeding and mating opportunities.

Roadways often create barriers for these animals to behave and roam in a natural way.

Choosing not to cross a busy roadway may lead to the death or destruction of an entire population of animals. But choosing to cross may result in the death of the individual animal that takes the crossing risk.

Tennessee and North Carolina’s Departments of Transportation are currently working with Steve Goodman (a Volgenau Wildlife Research Fellow with the National Parks Conservation Association) and Dr. Liz Hillard (a wildlife scientist with Wildlands Network) to conduct field research.

Their work includes evaluations of roadways just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and also how they influence the habits of black bears, white-tailed deer, elk and other native species.

According to the website, their research aims to:

  1. Assess wildlife use of existing structures
  2. Assess wildlife road mortality
  3. Assess wildlife activity within the highway right-of-way
  4. Identify and predict elk road crossing locations using movement information from GPS-collared elk

Studies will also likely be done to determine what the bridge will look like for maximum efficacy as different species of animals seem to prefer different styles of overpasses.

For instance, elk and deer prefer large open structures that resemble meadows. However black bears tend to prefer smaller more constricted crossings with cover.

Another example of a wildlife crossing in Russia (stock photo)
Fencing is also usually installed along the borders of the structure to help guide animals safely across the overpass instead of the busy roadway (stock photo)

How is this project currently being funded?

The Wildlands Network is serving as the fiscal sponsor for the Safe Passage Fund. The coalition is also currently accepting public donations on its website.

If funded, the project will take a number of years to complete. This means that it might be quite some time before we see these structures popping up in the Smokies.

What do you think about the wildlife crossing animal bridge proposal in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!

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Morgan Overholt

Morgan is the founder Morgan Media LLC, a graphic design agency and the co-founder of LLC – a media company that specializes in regional travel sites.

6 thoughts on “This Is What the Proposed I-40 Wildlife Overpass Might Look Like”

  1. I think this is a wonderful idea but they would need to be trained to do this and what if it doesn’t work?

  2. Animals will not need human training to cross. Some animals, like deer and coyote, that are more familiar with human infrastructure, adopt crossings faster. Young animals learn from their parents to cross, and fencing also guides other animals over. There’s more from a recent National Geographic article:

    “…animals that are already accustomed to human structures, like coyotes and deer, were using the Washington I-90 crossings almost immediately—even skirting around construction equipment—there’s a longer learning curve for other species. It might take elk, grizzly bears, and cougars a couple years to feel comfortable using the crossings, and wolverines, lynx, wolves, and fishers (recently reintroduced to Washington), five years or more. But once routes over or under the road are established, it becomes intergenerational knowledge: “Cougars with kittens and black bears with cubs will use the crossings,” Clevenger says.

    Those early adapters are important. Not only are they keeping themselves off the road and reducing car-animal collisions right off the bat, but they also create paths that more reticent animals will follow, says Clevenger. Fences also help—they guide animals away from dangerous highway crossings and toward overpasses and underpasses.”

  3. This is amazing! I am honestly surprised they care enough to do this. These animals have been displaced so many times and are running out of places to go. I hope they can get this done ASAP.

  4. Please please please please bring these to Tennessee! I want to join your cause somehow. A pastor at my church belonging co here in Nashville also is passionate about these as he loved in Hawaii. I’m trying to talk with him also. I cry and weep when I see deer along roads near me along elm hill pike and bell road .

  5. I think will be a good idea and it will cause less roadkill now with the new bridges

  6. this is amazing idea but what happen’s if the bridge collapses i think it’s amazing its just expensive.

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