Caltrans is implementing an innovative way to reduce the number of wild animals killed by cars at the top of the Cuesta Grade.
The agency has installed electrified pads on four roads near Tassajara Creek that deter large animals from entering the Highway 101 corridor. The pads administer a mild shock to any animal that steps on them.
This is the first time these pads have been used in the state.
Wildlife authorities say a 2.5-mile segment of road from the Highway 58 interchange south to the railroad overcrossing is the scene of an unusually high number of collisions between cars and large wildlife.
Eight bears and numerous deer have been hit and killed by cars in that stretch during the past five years. It is a major crossing point for animals traveling through the Santa Lucia Mountain Range.
“These solar-powered mats are primarily focused on the bear population,” explained Nancy Siepel, a Caltrans biologist. “They can deliver a very low-level deterrent shock to the animal attempting to cross the mat. They can also sense the electrical field before they reach it.”
The devices, called Electro Mats, replace grates on Spanish Oaks Driveway, Tassajara Creek Road, a water district service road and the Santa Margarita Ranch driveway across from Tassajara Creek. Cars and people wearing shoes will not be shocked by the mats.
The mats are only one component of the wildlife fencing project. Traditional barbed-wire fences are being replaced with wildlife fencing, which consists of wire mesh that allows small animals, like squirrels, to pass through but not larger animals.
The California Conservation Corps is replacing the fencing. The barbed wire will be recycled. Escape ramps have also been installed at four locations. These are dirt-covered ramps that wildlife can use to safely get over the fencing if they are trapped within the highway corridor.
The goal of the project is to keep large animals out of the highway corridor and, at the same time, channel them to locations where they can safely cross beneath the freeway. The railroad crossing and the Santa Margarita Creek Bridge are two safe crossing points.
“This project will increase the safety for motorists who might be involved in these wildlife-vehicle collisions and the animals that live in this beautiful section of San Luis Obispo County,” said Rich Krumholz, Caltrans district director.
The project costs $500,000. It began in November and will be completed this summer.