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Climate and Environment

The World’s Largest Wildlife Crossing Could Have A Spring Groundbreaking

An adult mountain lion walks in a grassy clearing at night with several mountain lion kittens behind her.
Mountain lion P-65 and her kittens. The Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor would provide safe passage for mountain lions and other wildlife in the region.
(Courtesy: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area)
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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.

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“[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.”

Credit_Living Habitats and National Wildlife Federation.jpg
A rendering of the wildlife crossing spanning the 101. It was announced in September that, upon completion, the crossing would be named for the largest donor, Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation.
(Courtesy: Living Habitats and National Wildlife Federation)

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. 

An overhead view of the 101 freeway with a land bridge covered in grass spanning it.
An overhead view of the proposed Liberty Canyon Corridor with the designated frontage road expansion.
(Living Habitats and National Wildlife Federation)
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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.

A group of a dozen people dressed in hiking clothes walks on a frontage road next to a freeway led by Governor Gavin Newsom, who wears a dark shirt and blue jeans with sunglasses.
Gov. Gavin Newsom tours the site of the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor with Beth Pratt in August 2019.
(National Wildlife Federation)

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.”

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Pratt says that, ultimately, $78 million is a solid estimate for the project.

Eleven animals, a coyote, deer, rabbit, mountain lion, bobcat, eagle, bat, toad, aunt, and lizard, are depicted in circles around a depiction of the wildlife crossing.
A breakdown of the some of the biodiversity of wildlife that would benefit from the crossing.
(Living Habitats/National Wildlife Federation)

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.

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“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.”

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Corrected January 14, 2022 at 1:38 PM PST
This story was updated with clearer language about the phases in which the bridge will be built.