New speed zone is wildlife migration area

Dear Johnnie:I noticed some new signage on U.S. Highway 36 south of Lyons. It’s near the turnoff onto Hygiene Road, and there is now a “nighttime” speed limit of 55 mph.

It appears to be related to wildlife in the area. I have not traveled into the zone yet, but from what I could see, the restriction is from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., and the zone has a “fines doubled” sign associated with it.

Have there been enough issues in that area to warrant a nighttime speed zone? I believe it’s the first I’ve ever seen. And I thought doubling fines was reserved for construction and school zones.

Thanks. — Unsure

Dear Unsure: Your question came in several weeks ago, but the timing of my response is, well, convenient.

Even though those signs have been up for a while, they are in effect as of Sept. 1 and will remain effective through April. And, yes, they relate to wildlife in the area.

Fresh snow blankets the area as a herd of approximately 75 elk graze near Hygiene Road and North Foothills Highway south of Lyons on Thursday, March 29, 2007. (Jill P. Mott/Times-Call file)

In 2010, in an effort to reduce vehicle-wildlife accidents, the Legislature passed HB1238, which identified 100 miles of wildlife crossing zones where lowering the nighttime speed limit was feasible. One of those 14 zones is an 8-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 36 south of Lyons.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said CDOT worked with the state patrol and Division of Parks & Wildlife to pick the enforcement zones, based on “hit data” and migration patterns. CDOT avoided lowering the speed limit in areas where it is using other methods to reduce collisions, such as fencing and motion detectors that trigger flashing lights. This will help the agency determine the effectiveness of these tools.

As for the hit data, it was gathered from 2002 through 2006. It reveals that of 249 automobile accidents on U.S. 36 south of Lyons, 78 were wildlife-vehicle collisions. That’s 31.3 percent of the total. More importantly, of the 89 accidents recorded between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. from September through April, 52 were wildlife collisions. That’s 67 percent.

Even though it’s still light at 5 p.m. in the fall and spring, the state picked an enforcement time it could stick with that covers dusk to dawn even in the darkest months. And, yes, the state can charge you double for speeding.

Large animal-vehicle collisions can be serious. According to a CDOT news release, the average property damage of an animal-vehicle collision is a little more than $3,000. I’ve seen a car strike an elk on a highway (after dark, in the fall). It’s deadly to the animal and can seriously injure the people in the automobile. I feared that the elk was going to be thrown into my car.

The Department of Transportation provided these tips for driving during migration season:

Slow down and stay alert, especially through these and other signed wildlife crossing areas.

Scan the roadway and roadsides ahead for signs of movement; watch for shining eyes of animals that reflect car headlights at night.

Do not swerve, but rather brake gradually, maintaining control of the vehicle.

To see the map of CDOT’s wildlife crossing zones, visit coloradodot.info. Under “programs,” select the “environmental” link. Then select “wildlife” and “wildlife on the move.”

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