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West Vail Pass wildlife crossing contest: Bold designs un-Vailed for I-70

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Last night, participants in the Western Governors' Association confab at the Curtis Hotel got a sneak preview of models from the five finalists in an international design competition to build a special wildlife bridge over West Vail Pass -- and each entry was a pretty impressive blend of the wild and the practical.

As explained in my 2009 story "The Bridge to Somewhere," Colorado environmental activists have long considered the I-70 mountain corridor to be "the Berlin wall of wildlife," a barrier that interferes with migration of a wide variety of species, claims lives of endangered animals like lynx -- and poses huge potential for deadly human-wildlife collisions. The Vail Pass area, a particularly critical migration corridor, was chosen from 25 sites in sixteen states for this first-ever competition, in an effort to promote fresh ideas for feasible crossings -- and maybe even shake loose the money to build them.

The design and engineering team that wins the contest, sponsored by several highway agencies, environmental groups (and even a Canadian railway), will be announced next month in Washington, D.C. and will receive $40,000. It's going to be a daunting choice.

Virtually all of the finalists feature graceful, striking designs that blend well with surrounding vegetation (and are vegetated themselves, in order to lure the beasts across them), yet provide a kind of iconic gateway to Vail. Materials range from concrete to free-form timber to plastic and glass, with an emphasis on modular construction that can be modified or easily transferred to other sites. There's a giant rhomboid, a hypervault, a bright-red multi-path and plenty of cameras and other gadgets to provide real-time monitoring that could be studied by researchers or fed into classrooms.

The cost? Between $7 and $12 million, not much more than similar (but narrower) bridges in Canada's Banff National Park. For larger shots of some of the entries, check below. For more on the design competition, go here.

More from our Kenny Be/Comics archive: "Vail pass wildlife crossing collides with state budget: Kenny Be's Worst-Case Scenario."

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