The bipartisan compromise infrastructure continues to move forward. On Sunday, the massive public investment bill survived three more votes, winning more than 60 yeas each time. Senator John Thune continues to fight this investment in South Dakota’s economic future; the supportive Senator Mike Rounds missed all three Sunday votes.
The infrastructure bill has good things for everybody, including animals. Section 11123, “Wildlife Crossing Safety,” proposes a pilot program that will offer states, tribes, local governments, and other entities grants to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity for terrestrial and aquatic species. Grantees must dedicate at least 60% of their funding to projects in rural areas.
This section directs the Department of Transportation to update and expand its 2008 report on how to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. That report estimated that we crash our cars into about a million critters each year, incurring $8.388 billion in vehicle repairs, hospital bills, roadkill removal, and other crash costs. DOT’s update to this study would be due eighteen months after the President signs the bill.
Section 11123 responds to one of the key data needs highlighted by the 2008 study by ordering DOT to develop a standardized methodology “for collecting and reporting spatially accurate wildlife collision and carcass data”—yes, a roadkill database. Chuckle if you will, but we can’t tell if the wildlife crossings we spend our money on are helping keep drivers and our furry friends safe if we don’t have solid data.
The infrastructure bill appropriates $60 million for the wildlife crossings program in 2022, then increases funding by $5 million each year through Fiscal Year 2026, for a total of $350,000,000. If the wildlife crossings and other sensible practices Section 11123 funds reduce car-critter crashes just 5%, we save as much money in crash costs as this plan spends.
State Farm Insurance has found that South Dakota drivers have the fourth-highest risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions (behind Pennsylvania, Montana, and West Virginia). Just this one tiny component of the infrastructure bill could save South Dakotans a lot of costly encounters with deer and other critters. Senator Thune may not mind if we keep crashing into deer, but the majority of the Senate and President Biden would like us and our four-legged friends to all get home safely.