Richland student wins scholarship for I-90 wildlife bridge design

WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION NEWS RELEASE -- Two Washington high school students are earning green for college in a scholarship contest focused on bringing fresh ideas to creating safer passage for wildlife and motorists on Interstate 90 east of Snoqualmie Pass.

Connor Gill, a sophomore at Delta High School in Richland, received a $1,500 scholarship from the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition and a week-long adventure with the Cascade Mountain School for submitting an essay and an artistic rendition of a wildlife overpass. He received top votes from a review panel made up of Washington State Department of Transportation and the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition staff members.

"Connor is an engineer in the making. He did a great job creating a bridge design for wildlife," said Brian White, WSDOT assistant regional administrator for project development and I-90.

Second prize went to Sarah Zhou, a junior at Issaquah High School, whose essay and artistic rendition allowed wildlife to move both under and over the Interstate earning her a $500 scholarship.

"Sarah did a wonderful job designing and explaining her wildlife crossing concept. She obviously did her homework about the dangers I-90 poses to wildlife," said White.

The 2014 Bridging Futures Scholarship contest is co-hosted by the WSDOT and I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition. High school students from across the state are asked to provide concepts that tackle the same problem WSDOT engineers are solving: Building a wildlife crossing over I-90.

The crossing had to be similar to the structure scheduled to be built in 2015 near the Price Noble Creek Sno-Park and temporary rest area. The wildlife crossing is part of the second phase of theI-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project.

"Connor and Sarah showed a real grasp of the challenges when wildlife encounter highways, and suggested creative solutions to insure safe passage for the animals as well as vehicles on I-90," said Charlie Raines, I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition director. "They both incorporated elements to insure the passages are effective for a wide variety of wildlife species. We are pleased to be able to help further their education."

In addition to wildlife crossings that help reconnect habitat in the central Cascades, WSDOT is improving I-90 by building a new six-lane freeway from Hyak to Keechelus Dam by:

Replacing deteriorating concrete pavement in the existing lanes and shoulders
Stabilizing rock slopes
Extending chain-up and -off areas
Straightening sharp curves
Replacing the snowshed east of Snoqualmie Pass with new avalanche bridges
Adding lights, traffic cameras and variable message signs.

WSDOT received funding from the 2005 gas tax package to design and construct this project. The first five miles of improvements are scheduled to be complete in 2018.

Bridging Futures has been an annual contest since 2006. Click here to learn more about its history.