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Caltrans expects to break ground early next year for an $87-million wildlife crossing on the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills that experts say is critical to help save an isolated population of mountain lions in the region from extinction.

The bridge at Liberty Canyon, which has been a dream of conservationists for years, will allow mountain lions and other species to cross safely over a busy eight-lane stretch of the freeway used by an estimated 300,000 vehicles a day, officials said.

When completed, the 200-foot-long, 165-foot-wide wildlife bridge will be the largest of its kind in the world, officials said. The project is being backed by a number of public and private organizations including the California Department of Transportation and the National Wildlife Federation, officials said.

The project will likely go out to bid next month with construction set to begin in late January, said Sheik Moinuddin, a Caltrans project manager. The project will be divided into two phases, the first will cover the area across the 101 Freeway and the second will cover the two-lane stretch across Agoura Road.

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