Designers! Get wild on Vail Pass!

The campaign to construct a wildlife bridge over I-70 near West Vail Pass got a major boost this week when the site was selected as the focus for a new, international design competition of wildlife crossing structures.

Long identified as a problem area for wildlife migration, the traffic-heavy pass was chosen over 21 other candidates for the first-ever North American Wildlife Crossing Structure Design Competition, also known as ARC. The contest encourages design teams to explore new methods and materials in order to reduce the havoc involved in SUV-meets-Bambi encounters.

Governor Bill Ritter has enthused over the selection, saying that the competition will "cultivate innovative ideas to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions," which are on the rise in Colorado and other western states.

Working with the Colorado Department of Transportation, wildlife groups identified a particular stretch of I-70 on the west side of Vail Pass as a critical crossing area for several species; two of the fourteen lynx killed on state roads since 1999 were found in the vicinity. CDOT has spent $400,000 on preliminary design work, but locating funds to build a wildlife bridge spanning the highway remains a challenge -- one explored in my July feature "A Bridge to Somewhere."

The ARC competition won't magically produce the cash to get the job done, but it should generate some interesting ideas of how such a bridge -- the first in the United States -- might actually look. And how to get the four-legged traffic to take the scenic route.