From the Lewiston Tribune
The lights, secured atop deer-crossing warning signs, will be triggered when an animal passes through laser beams focused along shoulders of the highway.
"It's to give travelers an extra chance to avoid a collision," said Joe Schacher, resident engineer on the project for the Idaho Transportation Department.
The equipment, which is powered by both electric and solar energy, has been installed as part of what's called the Moscow Mountain passing lane project. The project, funded by federal stimulus money, is in an area with a history of a high rate of vehicle-animal collisions.
"I'm pretty confident it's the only one in the state," Zach Funkhouser, senior environmental planner for ITD, said of the system. "Not only that, I don't think there are a lot of them in the nation."
The wildlife detection system is being installed by SRF Consulting Group, Inc., of Minneapolis. A spokesman for the company said the Steakhouse Hill system has three zones of detection, and an animal entering any of the zones will trigger all the warning lights on both sides of, and atop the hill.
"The idea is that when an animal walks through and breaks that beam, it activates a warning light signaling motorists that there may be an animal on or near the roadway," Zach Funkhouser said.
In years past, an inordinate number of moose wandered onto the highway near mile post 351 near the top of the hill and were struck by vehicles. The accidents resulted in a numerous motorist injuries and animal fatalities. In response, ITD erected warning signs depicting moose, rather than the more typical deer silhouette. But the moose signs were stolen almost as fast as they were installed.
"The UI kids seemed to enjoy them," Funkhouser said.
The new detection systems uses a laser transmitter and receivers mounted on metal posts with solar panels attached. "Most of the equipment is installed," Schacher said. "It's just a matter of getting it tested. It's a new system, kind of on the edge of the experience envelop."
A series of two laser beams are focused, about the height of a deer, elk or moose, down the length of the highway. An animal must break both beams to trigger the warning lights, Funkhouser explained. The lights flash for a set amount of time.
"It can not detect the length of time the animal stays on the highway," Funkhouser said, explaining an animal could pass through the beams and stay on the roadway well beyond the time the lights are flashing.
"So motorists need to be careful all the time, but hopefully this will increase their awareness that animals are around."
About $200,000 was budgeted for the wildlife detection system. Funkhouser said crews will be making final adjustments to the equipment and the lights should be activated within the next week or two.
Photo: Mike Cameron, ITD Inspector, next to the new U.S. 95, solar-powered wildlife detection and signal system.