ASHEVILLE — Following Citizen Times’ Nov. 15 reporting of Jennifer Pharr Davis crashing into a bear on I-26, totaling her car, and her subsequent petition to add wildlife lanes to the area, the North Department of Transportation has announced Carolina confirms this Take a fresh look at the wildlife accident data in the track where she crashed.
“In light of recent events, engineers will be re-evaluating the accident data on I-26 between the French Broad River and the Blue Ridge Parkway over the coming weeks to determine if any changes need to be made,” NCDOT spokesman David Uchiyama said in a statement Email to Nov 17
Ahead of Citizen Times’ Oct. 26 coverage of the Davis crash, Uchiyama said NCDOT engineers had already reviewed crash data for the area from 2009 to 2012 and decided that wildlife passages would not significantly reduce collision frequency. He said no further information is available at this time, but Davis and local wildlife experts say it’s an encouraging development.
Past coverage:“No Response Time”: After meeting a bear on I-26, an Asheville woman requests wildlife passage
Word from the Smokies:Stage is set for wildlife improvements on I-40
“DOT has been extremely receptive to hearing about my experiences and trying to find more data along this corridor and see if that warrants any adjustments to the I-26 plan,” Davis said.
Davis said she reached out to State Rep. Chuck McGrady, a member of the state Department of Transportation, about her concerns. According to Davis, McGrady took her situation to the rest of the board and she has been in touch with local NCDOT officials ever since.
Jeff Hunter, director of the Southern Appalachian National Parks Conservation Association and winner of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conservationist of the Year award, said he’s glad NCDOT is working with conservation organizations and the public on issues like this.
“Personally, at this time of Thanksgiving, I am very grateful that these officials, these people who serve the public, are willing to do anything for the safety of people and also for the protection of wildlife,” he said.
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What are wild passages?
Davis’ petition states that NCDOT should consider adding wildlife crossings to the ongoing I-26 expansion project, which aims to add approximately 22 miles of freeway in Buncombe and Henderson counties from US 25 or Greenville Highway to I-40 and I widen -240 exchange.
Wildlife passageways are overpasses or underpasses that animals large and small can use to cross busy roads, reducing both human risk and property damage and animal mortality, according to Liz Hillard, senior wildlife biologist for the Appalachia region at Wildlands network. Animals need to move, and roads can prevent that movement, stopping essential sharing of genetic information and limiting the amount of food available, among other things, she said.
NCDOT shouldn’t necessarily need more wildlife collision data to know that the section of I-26 around the French Broad River is an important wildlife movement corridor, Hillard said.
“That’s because we know that river and stream corridors are important movement routes, especially for animals like bears and deer,” she said. “Although these animals are able to move over rough terrain, it can be costly from an energy conservation standpoint, so they often move through landscapes using a path of least resistance strategy, and here in our mountains, this tends to be the case flat slopes created by our rivers and streams.”
To help the animals move under I-26, Hillard said NCDOT could create passages similar to a recently completed project on I-40 in Pigeon River Gorge, where there are walkways along both sides of Cold Spring Creek under a bridge that also crosses Harmon Cave Road.
Past coverage:Wildlife crossing under I-40 in Pigeon River Gorge, “excellent start” for bear and moose safety
Collection of wildlife crash data
Wildlife collision data could be difficult for NCDOT to obtain without additional effort, Hunter said. When Citizen Times asked Highway Patrol spokesman Rohn Silvers for wildlife accident data in the area NCDOT is investigating, he said the Highway Patrol system “does not show details about the species of animal or the exact location other than the nearest road.” “. and that “even then you would have to drag each crash and delete that from the report itself.”
Even if NCDOT combed through all of this data by hand, Hunter said it still wouldn’t be an accurate picture of wildlife collisions. Sometimes wildlife accidents are not reported to the police, especially if a car is still drivable.
In those cases, Hunter said, the data could come from the Wildlife Resource Commission, which collects and documents roadside animal carcasses. But even then, not all animals hit by cars die on the road, and not all carcasses are picked up by the commission. When his organization worked with NCDOT and others on the I-40 project in Pigeon River Gorge, he aggregated data from Highway Patrol, the Wildlife Resource Commission and internally conducted driver surveys, he said.
When Davis crashed, she said police told her no other cars were involved in her accident. However, after the petition was filed, she said someone contacted her with dash camera footage showing at least two other cars hitting the bear she struck, damaging both cars. However, neither filed a police report, she said.
Related:Blue Ridge Parkway Bridge over I-26: 1st pier completed, 1st half to mid-2023
Now Davis is asking people to comment on her petition with their own stories of encountering wildlife on I-26 near the French Broad River. That experience, she said, gave her confidence in what she once thought was a slow and indifferent system of government.
“I clearly have a strong emotional reaction to my accident because it was so scary, but I also know that for there to be a change or improvement, there has to be a process and collective data, and for there to be a good reason to make changes to such a big one.” project like the I-26 expansion project,” Davis said. “Nothing has been announced, nothing is happening yet, maybe nothing will change, but I think the way they’re going about it gives me confidence that good people are good people making decisions about our roads, our wildlife and our drivers.”
Christian Smith is the general duty reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times. Questions or comments? Contact him at [email protected] or 828-274-2222.