PLACERVILLE, CA - Hitting a deer, or any other wild animal at high speed can be a very dangerous prospect.
"It can be disastrous for humans and animals," Contractor Doug Veerkamp said.
Veerkamp's company, Doug Veerkamp General Engineering, Inc, is completing work ahead of schedule on a tunnel under Highway 50, near the El Dorado Road exit, that officials hope wildlife will begin using to get to the other side of the highway.
An eight foot tall fence will help funnel the animals to the tunnel entrance.
"From Red Hawk Casino up through Missouri Flat Road, a lot of deer are killed along here," Veerkamp said.
And the problem isn't just deer.
"It could be a deer; it could be a bear; it could be a mountain lion; it could be a raccoon," CalTrans employee Deanna Shoopman said.
For CalTrans, the issue is traffic safety. They've already had success with similar tunnels on Highway 89 and on Interstate 80, near the Donner Rest Area.
"We want to be proactive in preventing collisions," Shoopman said.
This tunnel is the first to be built under Highway 50 and, at 203 feet in length and 12 feet high by 12 feet wide, is also the largest in the area. The size of the tunnel caused nearby resident Vernon Thiessen to joke that a giraffe could fit through it.
However, Thiessen is skeptical about the $1.6 million pricetag in the current economic climate.
"I can't say it's a bad idea," Thiessen said, "It's just a wasteful idea at this time when the state is so far in debt that we can't get out and we just keep spending money."
But the money was in the CalTrans budget in order improve traffic safety. The project comes at a good time for the company that won the bid.
"It's a shot in the arm for the local employees," said Veerkamp. "You know, we're local contractors, born and raised in the area, been in business 29 years and we need more local work."
Veerkamp's workers have been tackling the job only on weekends to keep traffic disruptions on Highway 50 to a minimum. They are ahead of schedule and expected to finish the job by late June.
Another wildlife crossing at another section of Highway 50 is in the planning stages.
By Jonathan Mumm, firstname.lastname@example.org