Environment & Science

Community widely supports plan for $55 million wildlife bridge

National Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich explains his work studying mountain lions at a recent public meeting for a proposed wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills.
National Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich explains his work studying mountain lions at a recent public meeting for a proposed wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills.
Jed Kim

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The proposal to build a massive multimillion-dollar wildlife bridge across the 101 Freeway has garnered wide public support in the early stages of the project.

About 300 community members filled the auditorium of the King Gillette Ranch Thursday evening to learn about plans for the bridge, which would cross the freeway in Agoura Hills.

The first public meeting was held by Caltrans as a way to highlight the need for a crossing, exhibit proposed alternatives for the project’s scope and begin collecting public comments on the alternatives, officials said.

“We’re at the very beginning. This meeting is to gather public input on their concerns, what they want us to look at, what they want us to study as we move forward,” Caltrans Senior Environmental Planner Barbara Marquez said before the meeting.

Efforts to build a wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway have been in the works for years, though none have made it as far as the current proposal. Isolated by surrounding freeways, the Santa Monica Mountains have become a genetic island for an increasingly inbred population of mountain lions.

Currently, two plans exist to build a crossing at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills. Both plans comprise a 165-foot-wide vegetated bridge over the 101 Freeway. The difference between the two is where the bridge will end. The more comprehensive and expensive option extends another bridge over the neighboring Agoura Road.

Thursday’s scoping meeting was an early step in the process to develop and finalize a plan for the Liberty Canyon crossing. Latter steps will include identifying impacts from the different alternatives, performing environmental assessments and holding more public hearings.

Previous plans had considered building a tunnel under the busy freeway, but Marquez said those ideas are not being pursued currently, as they appear less able to attract usage by wildlife and wouldn’t sustain vegetation. She said, however, those plans could be reintroduced if needed.

“Again, we’re early in the process. Nothing is off the table,” Marquez said. “This is the public’s opportunity to give us input, and so we still have the possibility of adding an alternative if we need to or adjusting an alternative.”

The price of the project is currently estimated at $55 million, most of which is expected to come from private donations. Project organizers said they anticipate raising the needed funds by early 2019 and completing construction by November 2021.

Joyce Britton, a Studio City resident, said she often hikes in the area around Liberty Canyon and supports a bridge to help wildlife cross in and out of the mountain range.

“It’s something that I’m in favor of, because I love the cats, and I think that they need to have a safe way of getting to the other side, so that they can reproduce and make more of them,” Britton said.

Others in the audience mirrored her sentiment. More than a dozen politicians, environmental activists and community members spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. All showed support for the project, and most said they preferred the more comprehensive alternative.

As an administrative requirement, one of the proposed alternatives is a decision not to build anything in the area. No one spoke in favor of that alternative.

Anne Hughes, an Agoura Hills resident, said she doesn’t even consider such an action to be among the choices.

“As far as I’m concerned, no wildlife corridor is not a choice. I understand that’s Alternative 1, and I think that’s a very bad idea,” Hughes said.