KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Safe Passage Fund Coalition has officially launched the I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project.

Artist’s rendering of a bridge for wildlife to cross Interstate 70, to be built near Vail, Colorado, photo

In part, the collaborative effort aims at creating wildlife crossings, including wildlife overpasses and underpasses, along 28 miles of I-40 at the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Around 26,000 vehicles per day drive the stretch of I-40 through the Pigeon River Gorge, which sits just outside the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The coalition wants to make the stretch of interstate a safer place for wildlife and humans alike.

Defenders of Wildlife, a member group of the coalition, said crashes involving wildlife are on the rise in the U.S. and end up costing around $12 billion in damage each year.

One of the animal underpasses linking riparian with mountainous habitats is seen Monday, Dec. 19, 2005 in the Highway 93 expansion project north of Stevensville, Mont. The tunnel is used exclusively by wildlife as no roads or paths link to the tunnel. Public concern over animal-vehicle accidents and threats to the very existence of species have states stepping up efforts to build wildlife crossings. Special overpasses, underpasses and fences to shield bears, moose, panthers, deer, frogs and even butterflies from the hazards of the highway are spreading. (AP Photo/Chad Harder)

“Often wildlife crossing structures pay for themselves in reducing the costs of these collisions,” the group said.

The Safe Passage Coalition is made up of the Conservation Fund, Wildlands Network, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife and the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The coalition is in the process of collecting data on how to best implement the project and working to raise project funding.