Washington state wildlife—and state Dept. of Transportation engineers—received a helping hand from a pair of high school seniors.
As part of a WSDOT project to improve Interstate 90 between Seattle and Spokane by building a new six-lane freeway from Hyak to Keechelus Dam in the Cascade Mountain range, the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition ran a contest to solicit wildlife crossing designs from high school juniors and seniors.
They liked what they saw so much that the coalition awarded two $1,000 scholarships—instead of the planned sole winner.
Juniors and seniors from around the state were invited to submit “creative” entries that included concepts of how bridge engineers should construct a wildlife crossing over I-90. The crossing had to be similar to the structure scheduled for 2015 nearby in the Price Noble Sno-Park area.
After cutting down the applicants to the top five, a panel of transportation and I-90 project experts—including the state’s transportation director, a state senator and former secretary of transportation—couldn’t narrow it to one, instead giving honors to Brydon Eakins, a senior at University High School in Spokane, and Elaina Thomas, a junior at Garfield High School in Seattle.
“We received an amazing response from very talented high school students, making our job to select the best entries an exciting challenge,” said Charlie Raines, contest judge and Wildlife Bridges Coalition director. “Two students stood out in their work, and how ironic that they reside in cities that bookend I-90 in Washington.”
According to WSDOT, Eakins submitted a computer design that focused on an environmentally-friendly crossing while Thomas’ 3-D model focused on safety for wildlife and drivers.
Along with the wildlife crossing, which will still be designed and engineered by WSDOT engineers, the I-90 project will stabilize rock slopes to reduce the risks of falling rocks, extend chain-up areas, straighten sharp curves, widen the roadway, replace avalanche bridges and add lighting.
Funded from a gas tax, the first five miles of the improvements should be ready for traffic in 2017, with or without help from high school students.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He has also written for TIME, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.