Reflectors being installed along Highway 50 East today should make the highway safer for wildlife by scaring them away from the roads.
It's hoped they will also save wild horses along 50 East, where they are often hit and killed as they cross for water in drought months and feed in the winter.
"We know the system works with deer, but the horses are an unknown," said Gail Bellenger, biologist with the Nevada Department of Transportation.
"Horses are very different from deer so we're not sure this will work, but it's worth a try."
Use of the reflectors dropped wildlife road deaths near Mahomet, Ill., by 97 percent over a two-year period, from 1998 to 1999, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Wildlife deaths dropped 100 percent in Essex County, N.J.
Activated by approaching headlights, the reflectors are mounted on galvanized posts and staggered along the highway on opposite sides of the road. The light bounces at angles, creating an unnatural, moving red light along the shoulders of the road, according to Bellenger.
She said most accidents occur at night during spring and fall deer migrations.
"The light is readily seen by wildlife and after the headlights have passed, the animals go on their way," she said. "When a car is even with a reflector, a driver might be able to see something if they tried looking out of the corner of their eye, but most won't even see the lights."
Installation at the test area, three miles long starting at mile marker 11 near the Fort Churchill road, cost $20,000. The project is being funded by the Nevada Department of Transportation and installation should take about two days. If effective, the reflectors will be installed in other areas deemed high risk for wildlife.
"We'll be looking at data from either the Highway Patrol or the Department of Transportation maintenance to determine those areas where deer are killed," Bellenger said. "Hopefully, this method will replace the protective fencing that can fragment their habitat, keeping them from water, food or breeding grounds."
Strieter-Lite Wild Animal Highway Warning reflectors cost $18 each and manufacturers recommend placing 200 per mile of roadway. There are no mechanical devices and the primary maintenance consists of cleaning them periodically with water and sponge.
Fearing that Nevada's blowing sands might dull the reflectors, the supplier is treating several with a special coating to protect the surface. These will be placed randomly with untreated reflectors to see if the coating is effective.
Distributed in the United States by Strieter Corp. in Rock Island, Ill., the reflectors are manufactured in Austria.