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FDOT plans state’s first wildlife crossing overpass across I-4 in Polk County

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Posted at 9:42 PM, May 10, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Florida Department of Transportation is working on a wildlife crossing overpass in Polk County to protect the wildlife living in the area.

More than 100,000 vehicles zip through Interstate 4 every day, making it extremely dangerous for animals to get across.

“There have been several black bears and Florida panther collisions on the interstates, but luckily there haven’t been that many because when wildlife approach the roadway, they just know it’s not safe for them. They turn back and go the other way,” said Brent Setchell, FDOT District 1 drainage design engineer.

For the last 50 years since I-4 was built, it has been a barrier to wildlife movement. FDOT’s proposed wildlife crossing overpass will improve the access animals have to their habitats on both sides of the interstate.

“It’ll go over I-4 and it connects the Green Swamp to the north and Saddle Creek and Tenoroc Fish Management to the south. Eventually, even further south, going to the Peace River corridor,” Setchell said.

This network of conservation lands is home to numerous wildlife, and connecting them is vital to their survival.

“The species of deer on the south side of I-4 haven't seen the species of deer on the north side of I-4 in more than 40 years. This would be a unique opportunity to get that genetic diversity,” Setchell said.

The $11.9 million dollar wildlife overpass will be the first in the state solely for wildlife use. FDOT determined that an overpass is more cost-effective than an underpass.

Providing this new opportunity for animals to cross protects all species and gives the endangered ones, like the Florida panther, a chance to expand.

“They are what we call an umbrella species. If we protect the territory that one panther needs, we end up protecting a tremendous amount of other animals, including humans," said William Freund, president of the fStop Foundation.

If Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed Moving Florida Forward plan is approved, construction on the I-4 Saddle Creek overpass will begin in April 2024.