Animal path through forest

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) put into operation and continues to test the first detection system in the United States that alerts drivers in real time of wildlife on highways that cause risk to motorists. The system should replace the existing, widely used method of static signs that inform drivers of the potential wildlife "statistic" risk, rather than informing them of the real and immediate presence of animals.

The solution is called OmniTrax® from Senstar, a supplier of outdoor perimeter security technology and products for a range of markets, which is based on a volumetric electromagnetic proven sensor, buried underground approximately 9 inches and about 30 feet from either side of the roadway. The sensor detects large animals (deer, elk, etc.) crossing over it, locates the position of the intrusion to within three feet and then activates nearby signs, in order to alert drivers approaching the high risk segment.

The current installation covers one mile of the US 160 between Durango and Bayfield in southwest Colorado (around milepost 96), with six signs on each side. Once an animal is detected, the relevant two signs on each side light up.

 “CDOT, in coordination with the Division of Wildlife, studied many solutions, evaluating their practicality and economic and environmental feasibility,” explained Kevin Curry, a professional engineer with CDOT. “Fencing, permanent signs and lighting were not quite right for this stretch. We needed ways to minimize the impact to the wildlife’s migration while alerting motorists of their presence. We needed a solution with minimal environmental impact.”

Curry said that alternative detection systems using laser beams, microwaves or infrared technology were considered, but due to the potential for false alarms caused by snow, clouds and even tree branches, Omnitrax from Senstar was the best option with its high performance rating and low probability of false alarms.

Paul Trouten, national sales manager for Senstar Inc. said that Omnitrax® is widely used for securing perimeters of strategic facilities, such as airports, military installations, borders, major energy and utilities installations and prisons, around the world.

“CDOT’s pilot project is a new and innovative application for the product” said Trouten. 

Seven speed radar detectors have also been installed to register motorists’ speed both outside and inside the test zone so that drivers’ base speed and reaction speed can be monitored. The radar system will also monitor traffic counts, useful for follow-up analysis of the data by the CDOT’s Traffic & Safety staff.

The project was awarded a CDOT Research Grant for $150,000 that is going to the Western Transportation Institute of Bozeman, Montana, to independently evaluate the success of the project.