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Wildlife bridges planned for Vegas-California rail line

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Posted at 8:17 AM, Feb 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-19 11:17:25-05

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A passenger rail company and two California state departments have agreed to build three wildlife overcrossings along the route of a planned high-speed rail line that would connect Las Vegas and Southern California, the parties said Wednesday.

The agreement was announced in a joint statement by Brightline West and California's Department of Transportation and Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A rail line giving Southern Californians a new option to reach the gambling and entertainment destination in southern Nevada has been discussed for years.

Brightline West is planning a 218-mile route across the Mojave Desert with tracks in the median between the north- and southbound lanes of Interstate 15, the highway that is often jammed with weekend Vegas traffic.

The three wildlife crossings would allow animals, especially bighorn sheep, to safely cross over the highway and railway, the statement said.

The statement quoted Gov. Gavin Newsom as saying the project will protect the desert's wildlife as well as safely and efficiently move people between Las Vegas and Southern California.

“Roadways and rail lines must be designed to connect, not divide," Newsom said.

The three locations identified for the overcrossings are in San Bernardino County, northeast of Los Angeles. Funding sources will include the two state departments and Brightline West capital resources. Federal funds will also be sought.

The agreement also calls for Brightline West to maintain or improve hundreds of existing culverts and large-scale crossings underneath Interstate 15 and to restore or install fencing that keeps desert tortoises off the roadway.

Brightline currently operates intercity passenger rail service in Florida.

Its line serving Las Vegas would not extend into Los Angeles. The plan calls for stations in the high desert cities of Hesperia and Apple Valley and in Rancho Cucamonga, where Southern California's Metrolink rail system has a station.

Highways and other infrastructure are hazards to wildlife in Southern California. A major wildlife bridge spanning U.S. 101 is under construction west of Los Angeles to allow mountain lions and other animals to move between fragmented habitat.