Minnesota is getting its first dedicated deer crossing, which should help keep motorists and animals who often cross Highway 14 in Dodge County safer.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation this past summer began major work on expanding 12.5 miles of Highway 14 between Dodge Center and Owatonna into a four-lane highway in an effort to improve safety and eliminate slowdowns.
And part of this $108 million project includes a special crossing for deer and other wildlife near Claremont in Dodge County. The goal is to help minimize crashes with animals along this stretch of Highway 14 when it opens to traffic in the fall of 2021 or early 2022.
MnDOT frequently modifies bridges and culverts to help wildlife, but this is the first structure designed primarily as a deer crossing in Minnesota, Mike Dougherty of MnDOT told Bring Me The News.
The crossing is a box culvert connection that's going under the four-lane highway that runs east to west. The culvert. which cost $219,000, is about 200 feet long, 10-feet tall and 9-feet wide and will run north to south.
Minnesota's first highway animal crossing
"During the summer, deer generally are moving about in and around Rice Lake State Park and several Wildlife Management Areas on the north side of the highway," Dougherty said. "In the winter, deer are in the wooded ravines of the Dodge Center Creek watershed. Highway 14 separates the two areas where they need to cross seasonally."
MnDOT partnered with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on this new wildlife crossing. The DNR provided deer movement data and known migration routes, which led to MnDOT prioritizing this location for the wildlife underpass.
"It holds the potential to divert deer from crossing over the highway and choosing a path under, which, over time, can result in greater safety for motorists and wildlife," Dougherty said.
The new four-lane Highway 14 will have higher traffic speeds (65 mph compared to 55 mph) and is along a new route, about a mile south of the current highway, so it's a change to the area and for wildlife.
Officials will monitor deer usage, but Dougherty says it'll take deer time to develop regular use of the culvert, noting experience from other states and Canada that have installed animal crossings has shown deer populations are especially hesitant at first to use them.
The culvert is designed to help encourage deer to use it – it's short enough to show daylight through it, which should help, he said.
"There is good information from other states and Canada in the use of these wildlife passages. In our case, the DNR’s perspective on the deer population helped guide this element in a much larger road construction project," Dougherty said. "We’re building a new road along a new route, so it offered the ability to include this in a way that goes under the highway, while also being able to address the issue of drainage during significant flood events."
MnDOT will monitor how the deer adapt to the new underpass and work with the DNR and Minnesota State Patrol to monitor deer movement, crash statistics, and other data to determine what they've learned, what can be done better and if there are other situations that are suited for this type of project, Dougherty said.
Although no other wildlife specific crossings are in the works, MnDOT does frequently modify bridges and culverts to allow for wildlife to travel under a highway, Dougherty said. The most common wildlife crossing structure is incorporated into bridge rip rap, called a passage bench, and it's been built into almost all MnDOT bridge replacements that go over water for the past 12 years,
Minnesota's large deer population makes deer a safety hazard all year long, the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety says, with MnDOT noting the majority of deer collisions occur in the month of November.
From 2015-2019, there were 7,247 deer crashes reported to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. During that time, 20 people died in deer-related crashes and 121 suffered serious injuries.
Public safety officials offering the following tips to avoid crashes with deer:
- Be more cautious from 6-9 p.m. when deer are most active, and slow down in areas that are known to have large populations of deer (areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forest land and whenever in forested areas between dusk and dawn).
- Use high beams as much as possible and watch for the reflection of deer eyes and their silhouettes on the shoulder – slow down if you see anything.
- Deer are unpredictable – they stop in the middle of the road, re-cross back, move toward your vehicle – so sound your vehicle horn to urge deer to leave the road and stop if the deer stays on the road, don't try to go around it.
- Don't swerve to avoid a deer – this can cause you to lose control and travel off the road or into oncoming traffic.
For more safety tips, click here.