Every spring, mule deer and antelope across Utah head to the mountains in search of summer ranges, and head back to the valleys in the winter to avoid the snow.
But not all of the animals survive the journey, especially when the annual migration path goes directly across state Route 73 in Eagle Mountain.
Almost 100 deer have been hit and killed in the past four years by vehicles driving along a mile-stretch of the highway just north of Six-Mile Cutoff Road.
That’s why officials at the Utah Department of Transportation decided to install radar-equipped signs along the road to alert drivers of passing deer.
“When you see these signs flashing, that means there is wildlife in that vicinity and you really need to become aware and slow down and drive accordingly,” said regional communication manager Geoff Dupaix.
Instead of building more fences or wildlife bridges and underpasses, the department installed yellow deer crossing signs that flash when radar picks up movement in the surrounding fields.
The signs and equipment are much cheaper than alternative options and costs around $7,000 to create and install.
“If you look at the migratory patterns through Utah County, this is one of the main ones for this western part of the county,” Dupaix said. “This increases the awareness so it decreases the amount of deer strikes and makes it better for everyone.”
Drivers should see the flashing lights and have plenty of time to study the road for crossing wildlife to avoid collisions, he explained.
He attributes the innovative solution to Leslie Beck, a UDOT station supervisor who frequently drives along the highway. She remembers several times when pregnant deer were hit and killed near the road.
Last November, she attended a UDOT worker conference and wondered if the equipment used to warn cars about pedestrians could be used to warn drivers about wildlife.
“Every weekend the deer were getting hit constantly,” Beck said. “Some days it’s really hard to come out here and see all the dead deer.”
This is the first time radar equipment will be used to detect deer and other wildlife moving near roads in the state. Officials may install more radar equipment near other migration ranges if the signs are successful at preventing deer collisions.
The flashing signs and radar are located along the highway near a break in the snow fence, a barrier built in 2011 to prevent snow drifts across the road. The radar detects motion from 150 to 300 feet and will stop flashing when wildlife stop moving.
“If they see it flashing, drivers have a warning there is something in the area,” Beck said. “We hope it helps the public and the deer.”