PHOENIX - Arizona transportation officials say a project to protect the Mount Graham Red Squirrel has been canceled.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation , federal transportation enhancement funds slated for the project will be used on a different enhancement project or, if necessary, the department will forfeit the $1.25 million project cost and return the funds to Washington, D.C.
The project called for bridges to be built near Mount Graham where only 250 of the squirrels remain. The rope bridges would have helped the squirrels get over a road so they wouldn't be struck by vehicles traveling on Mount Graham roads in eastern Arizona, and cameras would have been installed to monitor their health.
A Friday news release explained that while working through the process to obtain community input as part of the environmental review before spending funds on the project, ADOT Director John Halikowski ordered the project canceled.
"ADOT will not spend funds simply because they are available," Halikowski said in a written statement Friday. "… It makes no sense that there are more than 120 specialized programs that state transportation departments are required to fund with federal highway dollars. Protection of the Red Squirrel may be an appropriate effort - but not with transportation funding."
ADOT officials say the department recognizes that transportation corridors affect the environment, "but the Mount Graham Red Squirrel project is better led by a wildlife management agency."
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