US travel alert: Landslide closes major Wyoming highway, disrupts commutes to tourist towns | Trip

A landslide that destroyed a key two-lane road in western Wyoming is causing a huge headache for thousands of commuter town workers at the start of the Yellowstone region’s busy summer season.

US travel alert: Landslide closes major Wyoming highway, disrupts commutes to tourist towns (Wyoming Highway Patrol via AP)
US travel alert: Landslide closes major Wyoming highway, disrupts commutes to tourist towns (Wyoming Highway Patrol via AP)

After both lanes of traffic crashed into a gorge near Teton Pass on Saturday, it’s anyone’s guess when Wyoming Highway 22, between Jackson, Wyoming, and eastern Idaho, will reopen.

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Compared to other highways in the region, the route over the 2,560-foot pass is not necessary to reach Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Most visitors do not pass through Teton Pass, and access to the park remains unimpeded.

But for thousands of people who commute daily to work in pricey Jackson and live in the cheaper eastern part of Idaho, the highway is a crucial twice-daily connection.

Here’s what you need to know as the situation continues to develop:

Slowly… Then all at once

There were signs that the highway was slipping.

When a crack opened up and the road dipped slightly on Thursday, quick repairs allowed traffic to resume until a mudslide a little further down the road closed the highway again.

This lockdown turned out to be a good thing. No one was driving on the previously broken section when it fell several dozen meters down on Saturday.

Landslides like the one that hit the famous Big Sur area on the California coast are not uncommon in mountainous areas. Sometimes they are sudden and have deadly consequences, while others creep and leave people wondering when they will end.

Problem with transport

Many commuters over Teton Pass are wondering when this crisis will end.

Teton County, Wyoming, with its famous views of the Teton Range, two national parks and major ski resorts nearby, is extremely expensive – according to one recent report, the average single-family home recently cost more than $7 million, and the cheapest one cost more than $1.3 million dollars. .

That’s far too much for many teachers, health care workers, public safety officers and others working in Jackson, Teton County’s main city. They include 20% of the employees of Jackson’s largest year-round employer, St. John’s Health.

Every day, thousands of people make – or used to make – the half-hour-plus drive over Teton Pass from lower-cost communities in eastern Idaho. Commuters now have at least another hour, and possibly two, of another hour to drive to Wyoming.

“More distance, more time, more fuel,” said Amy McCarthy, who lives just over the pass near Victor, Idaho.

McCarthy typically has a 22-minute commute to work as director of the Teton Raptor Center in western Jackson Hole, the valley that includes Jackson and much of Grand Teton National Park. Now she and about a third of the staff at the rescue center for injured raptors commute at least an hour and a half to work.

Short-term solutions

The Teton Raptor Center, which needs staff on-site 24/7, is working with local supporters to see who has room in their homes to house its workers for a few nights – a discussion that many others in Idaho leads with people in Jackson.

“Everyone is stepping up and mobilizing,” said Teton County Commissioner Luther Propst.

Propst said the county is working on temporary regulations to open up more areas for workers to camp, such as parking lots at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

County officials are also considering offering free commuter buses in Idaho three times a day and possibly running more buses.

“When you’re working an 8- to 12-hour shift and you add a four-hour drive on top of that, you need as many bus connections as possible so people can get a nap,” Propst said.

The crisis is also an opportunity to ensure that buses run on useful timetables – one on Monday on a longer than usual route was less than a third full – and to focus on enabling more workers to live on site, the commissioner said Teton County Wes Gardner.

“We are fortunate to have the community in Idaho and the housing that we have there,” Gardner said. “But when something like this happens, it really shows how it’s a Band-Aid in a way.”

I want to reopen and rebuild

According to the Wyoming Department of Transportation, it will take weeks, but not months, to at least partially reopen the road.

Governor Mark Gordon has declared an official state of emergency that will allow access to additional Federal Highway Administration resources to begin repair work. The Wyoming Department of Transportation has hired engineers and geologists to assess the area to begin working on an interim solution to the road closure, Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman said Monday.

The first goal is likely to be to make sure no more slides happen soon and that highway workers don’t accidentally cause new slides, said Bill Panos, former director of the state Department of Transportation.

“They will propose different approaches,” Panos said. “They will likely choose those that are fastest, most cost-effective and safest.”

For now, McCarthy has resigned himself to some very long travel this coming summer.

“I will be downloading a lot more Audible books,” she said.