CHATSWORTH (CBSLA) — A proposed wildlife crossing has been in the works for years, but now with engineers in their final design phase one question remains: Who will pay for the $87 million project?

The wildlife crossing will allow animals to safely cross the 101 Freeway, improving genetic diversity. (CBSLA)

A meeting was held Monday night in Chatsworth to discuss what could be the world’s largest wildlife corridor as plans for the bridge spanning the 101 Freeway enter their final engineering phase.

“We need to connect this habitat across the region for them so they can breed and have genetic diversity,” Beth Pratt, of the National Wildlife Federation, said.

Scientists say that if the bridge northwest of Los Angeles does not get built, Southern California’s mountain lion population could be extinct within 50 years.

Pratt said before humans started building roads, the animals were able to roam throughout different parts of the mountains, but biologists said location tracking shows that the big cats are being isolated. They said the corridor would help bridge the gap so the animals will be able to mingle and mate more.

“What’s happening is our roadways have proven to be deadly for them,” Pratt said. “They can’t cross them to get mates outside their family, which we know is bad. Inbreeding is not good.”

Just a couple of months ago, P-61 was struck and killed while trying to cross the 405 Freeway.

But the biggest concern for people is the project’s $87 million price tag. Pratt said the project will be privately funded, collecting money through fundraising efforts. The project has already raised $14 million with help from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation.

“We are not funding this from taxpayer dollars being diverted from things like bridge repair,” Pratt said. “We are taking some public dollars, but that has to be spent on conservation. It cannot be spent on anything else.”

The wildlife crossing is on schedule to open in 2023.

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