By: Renee Callahan, ARC Solutions & Maggie Johnson, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies
On August 10, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 3684, The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, with strong bipartisan support (69-30). If enacted, the bill would infuse $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, transit, rail and other public infrastructure projects, including $350 million in new federal funding for wildlife crossing structures as well as new policy provisions and expanded funding eligibility for wildlife infrastructure under new and existing programs.
The Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program dedicates $350 million in new funding over 5 years for projects to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) and improve habitat connectivity. Eligible applicants include Federal land managers, State highway agencies (including metropolitan planning organizations), Tribes, local governments as well as special purpose districts and regional, public transportation and port authorities.
In addition, the bill defines wildlife crossing projects as eligible expenditures under the following new and existing programs:
- Surface Transportation Block Grant Program– Construction of wildlife crossings as well as projects and strategies to reduce WVCs are eligible expenses under this program, which would receive $72 billion in total funding over 5 years.
- Bridge Investment Program – Projects to replace or rehabilitate culverts for purposes of improving flood control and habitat connectivity for aquatic species are eligible expenses under this program, which would receive a total of $6.5 billion in funding over 5 years.
- Nationally Significant Freight & Highway Programs – Wildlife crossing projects are eligible expenses under this program, which would receive $4.8 billion in total funding over 5 years.
- Federal Lands Transportation Program– While projects to mitigate damage to wildlife, aquatic organism passage, habitat and ecosystem connectivity are already eligible expenses under the Federal Lands Transportation Program, the bill would authorize Federal land managers to double their annual investment, from $10 million to $20 million per year, in mitigation projects aimed at reducing WVCs while maintaining habitat connectivity.
In addition to requiring an updated Report to Congress on the issue of WVCs along with best practices and solutions, the bill includes the following policy elements:
- Transportation and wildlife workforce development and training courses
- Guidance on voluntary joint statewide transportation and wildlife action plans
- A standardized methodology for collecting and reporting WVC and carcass data
- A voluntary template for implementing the standardized WVC data methodology
- Voluntary guidance on assessing whether a highway needs wildlife infrastructure
- Consideration of wildlife during bridge and tunnel inspections and trainings
- Eligible research activities expanded to include WVC safety measures
- Increased representation of wildlife experts on highway advisory committees
- Prioritization of R&D projects involving animal detection systems
The 2,700+-page bill has to pass the full House before heading to President Biden for his signature. Faced with expiration of the current law on September 30, Congress passed and the President signed into law a continuing resolution on October 2nd that extends and maintains existing federal spending levels under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act through October 31, 2021. On a related note, House and Senate leaders are seeking to pass a companion antipoverty and climate infrastructure bill via the reconciliation process, which may include funding for wildlife corridors and crossings.