It’s no secret that manmade infrastructure like roads and buildings can interfere local animal life. Habitat loss can eventually lead to species becoming endangered and extinct, and busy human roads can keep animals from following their natural paths.
It’s important for humans to consider how these structures will affect wildlife — but a new bridge in California is set to undo some of the impact humans have caused, allowing animals to finally cross a busy intersection.
The new wildlife crossing in Los Angeles, the largest ever of its kind, is finally set to begin construction next month, a big win for the state’s at-risk mountain lion population.
The bridge, named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, will cross the Ventura Freeway in Los Angeles, spanning ten lanes of busy traffic and connecting the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains.
The freeway has long been a major obstacle for local mountain lions. According to the Los Angeles Times, dozens of big cats have been killed by motorists since 2002, and the species’ genetic diversity has suffered because they are unable to travel to find mates.
“They can’t get out of here to get dates, and cats can’t get in to get dates. … For those of us in LA, having a romance prospect quashed by traffic is something we can all relate to,” Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation told The Associated Press in 2019.
“When the freeway went in, it cut off an ecosystem. We’re just now seeing impacts of that.”
A mountain lion known as P-22 was one of the animals who struggled due to the freeway: after traveling across two freeways and settling in a Los Angeles park, he became a symbol of how the city’s urban sprawl had devastated wildlife, according to AP.
He helped inspire California to begin work on a new wildlife crossing. While it isn’t unusual to build bridges to help animals get where they need to go, the size and scale of the project is unprecedented.
“Crossings like this are nothing new,” Pratt recently told AP. “This one’s historic because we’re putting it over one of the busiest freeways in the world.”
The bridge will finally allow a safe and easy way for the mountain lions to travel as they please, without having to interrupt any human travel. In addition to mountain lions, the bridge will benefit animals like bobcats, coyote and deer.
The project will reportedly cost $90 million, but will be mostly paid for through private donations and the rest through public conservation funds. The bridge is named for a philanthropist who donated $25 million to the project.
After years of planning, the bridge has finally set a date for the groundbreaking. The construction will begin April 22 — which, fittingly, is Earth Day. The bridge is expected to be completed by 2025.
“California’s diverse array of native species and ecosystems have earned the state recognition as a global biodiversity hotspot,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement, per AP. “In the face of extreme climate impacts, it’s more important than ever that we work together to protect our rich natural heritage.”
The bridge reportedly has universal support in the state. Construction will take place at night, without requiring any extensive traffic shutdowns.
The bridge will also blend in nicely with the natural geography: it will be covered in eight acres of landscape, including brush and trees to make it indistinguishable from the hills on either side.
“Ideally the animals will never know they’re on a bridge,” architect Clark Stevens from the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains told AP in 2019.
“It’s landscape flowing over a freeway. It’s putting back a piece of the ecosystem that was lost.”
We’re so glad this wildlife crossing is finally going to begin construction — we can’t wait until it’s complete and these mountain lions can be free to go wherever they want.
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