When endangered timber rattlesnakes wake from their winter hibernation area in Rutland County, many of them need to cross Route 22A to reach their feeding grounds.
As they slither across the busy two-lane road, some of the cold-blooded creatures stop to curl up on the warm spring asphalt — and never make it to the other side.
“That’s where truckers are hitting 60 miles per hour on their way up from Route 4 into the Champlain Valley,” said Jens Hilke, conservation planner for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
So when the road is rebuilt in the coming years, it will likely have the state’s first ever wildlife crossing — for rattlesnakes.
The five tunnels are proposed to cross the roadway under a mile-long section near West Haven. The project was mentioned this week in a New York Times story on wildlife crossings around the country.
While the project hasn’t been officially funded yet and construction is five or more years out, Hilke is optimistic that an infusion of federal infrastructure money will help ensure snakes and motorists get where they’re going safely.
The timber rattlesnake was added to the endangered species list in Vermont in 1987 following a sharp decline in population due to habitat loss and human persecution, according to its official recovery plan.
Those dangers still exist, as do new ones, such as an emerging skin fungus. Only a few hundred rattlers are thought to be left in the state in two isolated pockets. It is Vermont’s only native venomous snake.
The exact number and size of the snake tunnels will likely be determined by funding, but Hilke's department has asked the Vermont Department of Transportation to pay for five culverts, each about eight feet wide and four feet high.
Unlike culverts designed to carry water, these crossings would be dry and specifically for snakes, though lots of other wildlife would likely use them, Hilke said. To ensure the snakes use the tunnels, three-foot-high plastic fences on each side of the road would funnel them toward the openings.
“The good that we can do, not only for wildlife but climate resilience, by improving our transportation infrastructure is incredible,” Hilke said.