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Project to build world's largest wildlife crossing in Conejo Valley hits milestone

The first girder went up early Wednesday morning on the wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills.
Lance Orozco
The first girder went up early Wednesday morning on the wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills.

First of more than 80 girders for crossing placed over Highway 101 in Agoura Hills. Work causing partial freeway closures during the overnight hours.

After years of talk—and fundraising—a unique project to create the world’s largest wildlife crossing has reached a major milestone in the Conejo Valley:

It's going to be a full scale ecosystem on top of a freeway," said Beth Pratt, who is California Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation.

She’s been one of the biggest champions for the project, which is building a freeway overpass over Highway 101 near Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills for wildlife like mountain lions.

It will be fully landscaped to fit in with the region's natural habitat.

Pratt was on hand at 2:30 Wednesday morning, as the first of more than 80 girders to cross the freeway, and support the wildlife crossing was put in place.

"it was quite something to see that first girder go in," said Pratt. "Having worked on the project for over a decade now, and being in the company of some of the project partners who've worked on it for decades, it started to look like the bridge it will become. When that girder landed right, we all raised a cheer."

First the southbound, and then the northbound 101 lanes will be closed overnights in the Liberty Canyon area, to allow the 126 to 140 ton girders to be installed.

"Our contractor is (currently) installing the beans across the southbound direction. These beams are girders which will build the top of the structure," said Eric Menjaivar, with Caltrans. "In all, we'll have 82 girders. It's going to take us three to four weeks in each direction to get this done."

It’s being built like a traditional overpass, but there is nothing traditional about what will be on top of it.


An artist's conception of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing.

"This is very different than a bridge people are used to seeing," said Pratt. "It really is sort of an ecological stitch or extension of the landscape over the freeway. If you were to look like it from a bird's eye view, it would look like the landscaping is continuing over the 101."

Pratt said the crossing will allow wildlife to safely cross the freeway between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills. Right now, Highway 101 separates the habitats, threatening the biodiversity of mountain lions, and other wildlife.

What also makes it unique is how it was funded. The Caltrans project currently has a $92 million price tag, with private donors picking up about half of it. The Wallis Annenberg contributed $26 million, and around 6000 other donors the other part of the private donations. State funds specifically earmarked for environmental projects pay for the remainder.

The campaign is still fundraising, trying to raise another $22 million to support everything from the unique natural landscaping for the project to research projects affiliated with the crossing. It’s about $6 million dollars away from the finish line.

Pratt said the hope is this project will set the stage for more wildlife crossings in the region, like ones the Conejo Grade, and Highway 118.

Plans call for the wildlife crossing to be done in late 2025 or early 2026.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.