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Transportation and Mobility

Why High-Speed Rail To Vegas Means Bighorn Sheep And Other Wildlife Will Get New Crossings

A rendering of a train traveling across a desert scape. Power lines are visible and arid hills. the train is racing green and white.
A rendering shows a train traveling along the proposed route.
(Joe Raedle
Getty Images)
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State officials announced this week that they will build three wildlife crossings over a high-speed rail system that will soon run between Los Angeles area to Las Vegas.

The crossings will be constructed over Interstate 15, and will also provide passage over the rail line itself. The goal is to keep wildlife in the region — particularly bighorn sheep — safe from moving vehicles and trains.

“Roadways and rail lines must be designed to connect, not divide,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in a statement. “This project will not only protect the precious wildlife and habitat of the Mojave Desert region but will also get people between Las Vegas and Southern California safely and efficiently — preserving one of the most popular corridors in our state.”

Why it matters

Emily Leinen, the manager of External Affairs for Caltrans District Eight, said that animals who live in the areas surrounding the train's planned route will need protection too.

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"The animals that would be benefiting ... would be bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, Coyote, Mojave squirrel, mountain lion" and more, she said.

Wildlife fatalities on Southern California roads remain a chronic and troubling issue. Just this week, another mountain lion was killed after being hit by a car on PCH near Malibu.

A massive crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills is now under construction and many are looking to it as a model forward.

A rendering of what the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor will look like upon completion. Also known as the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing (named for one of its largest donors), the project will provide safe passage over the 101 freeway at a dangerous bottleneck for animals.
(Courtesy Living Habitats)

About the high-speed line

Rendering shows planned route between Las Vegas and L.A. on a simple line map
The green lines indicate the high-rail line. Yellow and red show connections on other trains.
(Courtesy Brightline)

The 218-mile high-speed rail system is being built by Brightline West, which is privately owned and based in Florida. The company is working with Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Brightline West. Stops are planned for:

  • Rancho Cucamonga
  • Hesperia
  • Apple Valley
  • Las Vegas

Additional connections to Los Angeles will be made via Metrolink.

About the planned crossings

All three crossings will be located in San Bernardino County, near:

  • Zzyzx Road
  • Mountain Pass
  • Rasor Road
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According to Leinen, officials are still in the process of figuring out the details of the crossings.
"They are currently in the design phase," she said. "So we are still accepting the designs, we have not confirmed that we do not have renderings yet.

What's next

Leinen said that construction for the electric, high-speed rail system is expected to break ground late this year.

"The wildlife crossings would be built at the same time as the rail," she said. "If we remain on track, we should be done with those wildlife crossings and that segment of rail sometime in 2025."

This story was updated on Feb. 16 with quotes from Emily Leinen.

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