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FDOT develops new plan to curb panther deaths in SWFL

NAPLES, Fla. – The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will spend more than $5 million to pay for new fences along part of Alligator Alley in an effort to protect panthers and drivers.

Since 2004, drivers have hit and killed 14 panthers on a 9-mile stretch of the alley in Collier County.

“We think this is an important project to increase safety on I-75” said Zac Burch, the communications manager for FDOT District One.

Residents in Southwest Florida are divided on the issue.

“I think it’s some good spending on FDOT’s part,” said Chad Kasztelan.

Ken Miller, a Fort Myers resident, disagrees, “I think it sounds like a big waste of money.”

“At the very least, it’s going to cause damage to your vehicle and it could also cause you to leave the roadway, hit other cars on the road, so it’s a safety improvement for the road as well as for the panthers,” said Burch.

“I’ve driven Alligator Alley before, I’ve never seen a panther. I’m aware that they’re there and I think if I did see one, I’d probably be able to avoid it,” said Miller.

Burch tells WINK News right now, there is a 4-foot wire fence from the FakaUnion Canal Bridge to the Naples toll booth. The department plans to build a 10-foot wire chain link fence with barbwire on top.

“This is the one section of I-75 in Alligator Alley that doesn’t have this fencing already. By adding this in, it will complete the hole, 10-foot tall fencing, all the way across the alley from toll booth to toll booth.”

Experts believe this will keep the panthers off the road.

“It’s all about keeping the wildlife safe as well as the drivers, so it’s a win-win situation I believe,” said Kasztelan.

FDOT also plans to build wildlife crossings underneath two canals so the panthers can get to the other side of the road. Construction for that will begin later this year. Burch says the fence project will begin in 2016 and is expected to take a few months to complete.

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