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A deer runs across the road in Pittsburg, N.H., on March 4, 2010. Construction has started on a wildlife overpass and fencing to reduce collisions between animals and vehicles on a stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta.Jim Cole/The Associated Press

Construction has started on a wildlife bridge over the Trans-Canada Highway where dozens of elk have been killed by vehicles driving through Alberta’s mountains.

Alberta Transportation said the overpass, the first in the province to be built outside a national park, will be located east of Canmore, Alta., and will cost about $17.5-million.

“This overpass will drastically reduce the chances of vehicle-wildlife collisions,” Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney said at a news conference Thursday.

There will also be 12 kilometres of fencing along both sides of the highway.

Seven elk were killed in a collision with a transport truck in April 2019 – the third time that year the RCMP reported multiple elk had been killed in collisions on the busy highway.

Miranda Rosin, member of the legislature for Banff-Kananaskis, said the collision prompted a conversation about the need for change.

“We were fortunate that day to have no human lives lost,” she said. “We must still remember that every life lost on that highway is felt in our community and that day it included the lives of those seven elk.”

Rosin said wildlife-vehicle collisions are common in the area.

“Hundreds of animals die on this highway every year as a result of motor vehicle collisions and it has always been only a matter of time until a human being meets the same fate,” she said.

Alberta Transportation said about 30,000 vehicles use that stretch of highway every day.

An Alberta First Nation and an environmental group applauded the move.

“This overpass is going to help advance ongoing conservation efforts like grizzly bear recovery. It will help support strong populations and large numbers of wildlife in the area,” said Adam Linnard, Alberta program manager for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative based in Canmore.

“It will also help prevent car accidents.”

Yellowstone to Yukon is a joint Canada-United States not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and wilderness in the Rocky Mountains.

Chief Clifford Poucette of Wesley First Nation said a lot of trails animals use in the area were “natural and traditional paths for migration and feeding.”

Poucette said the overpass will help reconnect wildlife habitat and increase vehicle safety for travellers.

Alberta Transportation said there’s an average of 69 collisions involving animals annually on the Trans-Canada Highway between Highway 40 and Banff National Park.

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