Illuminating U.S. Highway 40

CDOT installs reflectors to keep wildlife out of traffic

The Colorado Department of Transportation is playing a prank on the deer of Moffat County.

By installing reflectors along U.S. Highway 40 east of Craig, it is tricking wildlife into thinking a fence exists where there is none.

When vehicles' headlights hit the reflectors, light shines off them at a 45-degree angle, imitating the appearance of a fence.

This light shines not only across the road but down slopes on the sides of roads to prevent wildlife from approaching the highway.

"It intimidates the deer from crossing," CDOT project engineer Mike Morgan said.

The goal is to reduce the number of vehicle-animal accidents. The stretch of Highway 40 chosen is one of the worst areas for collisions.

Front Range Barricade of Longmont has been putting up the posts and reflectors since mid-January and expects to have installation complete by the end of next week.

Supervisor Chris Brown said his crew found 30 dead deer and elk in just the first two miles of their work.

The reflectors begin at mile marker 93 and stretch east for 7 3/4 miles. Brown estimated that his team will install 1,000 posts by the time it is finished.

The project costs $132,000 of CDOT funds and federal safety money. Morgan said reflectors have proved to be successful in many Midwestern states, as well as in Washington and Oregon and on U.S. 36 near Boulder.

CDOT also is installing speed radar and variable-message signs, costing at least $150,000, in Montrose. The two methods will be compared to see which is better at reducing the number of crashes.

"We're trying to do a study to see which is more effective, trying to deal with the deer, or deal with the people," Morgan said.

Once the Montrose signs are in place -- likely by the end of this month -- the three-year trial period will begin. Morgan said the more effective method then likely will be used on numerous roadways throughout the state.

"I think the people will love (the reflectors); CDOT will hate it," Brown said.

Brown said the local CDOT crew will be responsible for straightening each post and cleaning the reflectors twice a year. Plus, he suspects the posts will be in the way of snow plows.

Brown said he has experienced first-hand the need for some kind of mechanism to keep deer off the road. He nearly hit a deer Monday, on the stretch of road he's working on, and wished the project had been completed already.

Another anecdote demonstrated an important aspect of the reflectors: Brown watched cars pass at night when he started the project, waiting to see what the lights looked like.

Then he learned that the reflected beams are visible only to animals that have "night vision." The light is not apparent to drivers.

"Once we get it all up, it'll be effective," he said.

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