Huge section of Wyoming highway collapses, blocking critical transit route

 

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Part of Teton Pass, a crucial highway weaving through the mountains of western Wyoming, collapsed Saturday morning in a massive landslide that severed the primary transit route between two cities in the region. Officials have not shared a timeline for the repairs process but said they expect the road will remain closed long-term, potentially jeopardizing almost half the workforce in and around the tourist hubs Jackson Hole, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

The Teton County branch of the Wyoming Department of Transportation announced early Saturday that the road at milepost 12.8 on Teton Pass had “catastrophically failed” and shared several images on social media that showed the extent of the damage. Officials said crews were trying to build a detour around the initial collapse when the landslide broke down further and effectively destroyed a whole section of the surrounding highway. No one was injured.

“WYDOT is now reviewing a long term solution and repairs, and more information on planning efforts will be available soon,” the department said in their announcement. At the time, crews were also working to clear debris from another mudslide at the 15th mile mark on Teton Pass.

Carved into the Teton mountain range and running for about 17 miles, Teton Pass is the only direct route between Victor, Idaho, and Jackson, Wyoming. Despite being notoriously treacherous at certain times of year, and typically closed during those times because of weather-related safety concerns, the highway provides vital access to Teton County, which includes Jackson, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, for workers who commute there from eastern Idaho.

“We understand this highway is a lifeline for commuters, deliveries, medical care access and tourism, especially with limited alternatives and the summer season upon us,” said Darin Westby, the director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, in a statement after the collapse. “WYDOT engineers, surveyors and geologists mobilized quickly to try to maintain highway viability as long as possible, but catastrophic failure could not be avoided.”

Westby said the Transportation Department was at the site and “decisively engaged on fixing the road and restoring connectivity to the Teton Valley.”

In a study completed last January on the safety of the Teton Pass corridor, the Federal Highway Administration acknowledged that the highway “offers a critical connection for commuters and recreationists traveling from Victor, Idaho, and Jackson, Wyoming.” The trip, from one end to the other, would ordinarily take around 30 minutes or so in a car, or slightly longer on public transit. Because of the steep mountain landscape, alternate routes send travelers on a lengthy detour that takes roughly three times as long and covers some 85 miles.

The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board said businesses in the city, as well as Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, would all remain open in a message shared on its website in the wake of the Teton Pass collapse. The board also recognized that closing the highway indefinitely will likely have consequences for workers living in Idaho and commuting to Teton County, who make up about 40% of the county’s workforce, according to that message.

“Although businesses will do their best to support employees and commuters, and will work to remain open and maintain normal operating hours and services, it is expected that the workforce will be affected,” the travel and tourism board said. “As a community, we ask visitors and locals to exercise patience and understanding if you experience longer than normal wait times or interruptions in services.”

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