The World’s Largest Wildlife Crossing Could Have A Spring Groundbreaking
The Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing has been impressive since its inception.
The most famous moniker for the span which would provide safe passage for wildlife over the 101 freeway in Agoura Hills is a mighty one; the “largest urban wildlife crossing in the world,” per the National Wildlife Federation.
Of course, a bracketed phrase has also always been necessary before “Largest” — “[proposed].”
But now, to quote Almost Famous, everything is happening, so it seems.
“[The groundbreaking is set for] this spring. [And] the bid is about to be advertised by Caltrans. That's huge…I've been working on this a decade,” Beth Pratt, California Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation told LAist. “So that bid’s gonna go out and based on that schedule, we should be looking at break[ing] ground this spring.”
A long-awaited construction start for the project is headline-worthy in itself, but wait, there’s more. The crossing’s second phase earned key cash thanks to $10 million in proposed funding in next year’s state budget.
“The Budget includes $10 million one-time General Fund for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to secure funding to complete the tunnel phase of the crossing project over the Agoura Road frontage road,” reads the line item buried on page 102 of Gov. Newsom’s proposed budget summary for 2022-2023.
Agoura Road runs right along the freeway. Phase two would allow the span to jump one more roadway. Pending approval in May’s final state budget revision, of course.
Fortunately, even in the worst-case scenario where the $10 million gets pulled, the larger future of the project remains bright, as phase one, the 101 passage, is not contingent on the new funding.
Pratt broke down the bigger picture finances for the project further.
“87 million [dollars] is the estimate that Caltrans did in 2018, which they have to do as part of their process for the total project that includes all phases,” Pratt said. “In that estimate was the high estimate for construction of 78 million[ dollars.] So that was when they had 30% designed. So, we are now at a point where we have 100% or 95%...for stage one.”
Pratt says that, ultimately, $78 million is a solid estimate for the project.
The next steps will involve assessing phase two design and construction further, as well as making sure appropriate funds are raised and allotted for larger conservation efforts around the corridor. It is a unique project, after all, a cocktail of private and public collaboration as lengthy as it is noteworthy.
“The Liberty Canyon wildlife bridge project is a partnership with Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, National Park Service, and the National Wildlife Federation,” reads the proposed budget summary.
But ultimately, for Pratt, it boils down to the cause. It’s a labor of love, and, appropriately, our interview was punctuated by her own barking animals. Seeing that crossing finished will be worth every inch of effort.
“I think I'll cry. I think a lot of us will…Just [seeing] that first animal being captured on camera going across…That's what it's about,” Pratt said. “The plight of these mountain lions…I remember having that really solid thought, ‘Not on my watch. We can fix this one.’...this team is going to prevent the extinction of the mountain lion population.”