GAINESVILLE, Fla., Nov. 1 -- The world's first ecopassage, an under-highway tunnel system designed to let wildlife cross the road safely, was dedicated on Paynes Prairie State Preserve south of Gainesville, Fla., Wednesday. The 2.5-mile-long system along U.S. 441 cost the Florida Department of Transportation $3.7 million.
The ecopassage is composed of a 4-foot-high concrete wall on each side of the road which has openings to eight tunnels that pass beneath the traffic. What had been drainage ditches alongside the road are now covered with dirt and grass, making the wildlife preservation system invisible to motorists.
Paynes Prairie biologist Jim Weimer said the system was needed because 500,000 animals were killed crossing the busy four-lane highway in the past five years. Roadkill has been a problem on U.S. 441 since the road was built about 70 years ago.
Cameras mounted inside the tunnels have recorded raccoons and other animals using them to get around the 18,000 acre state preserve even before construction was complete. Biologists plan to study whether the ecopassage reduces roadkill as much as anticipated. If it does, an ecopassage like it will be built along Interstate 75, which crosses the prairie about one mile west. Similar wildlife passages are being planned at other locations around the world.