Reps want Teton Pass safety improvements
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
December 20, 2012
Teton County’s state legislators are pressing transportation officials to boost safety on Teton Pass.
Legislators sent a letter Monday to state Department of Transportation Director John Cox urging him to consider improved ramps for runaway trucks, higher fines for trucks that ignore warnings and closures, and more signs to deter the unwary from trying to cross Teton Pass.
Commercial trucks have been the biggest problem, especially when truckers unfamiliar with the pass try to cross.
“There have been multiple violations of these laws, even resulting in death, in the past few years,” legislators said in the letter, referring to weight restrictions and prohibitions against trailer traffic in winter months.
The letter was signed by Reps. Marti Halverson, R-Etna; Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson; Keith Gingery, R-Jackson; and Sens. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton; and Leland Christensen, R-Alta.
The letter repeated points raised during a meeting earlier this month that included legislators, state and county law enforcement officials, and members of the Jackson Hole Con-servation Alliance.
The letter offers ideas about how WYDOT could improve the safety of Teton Pass, where there have been many accidents in the past 10 years, including two fatal crashes.
Since 2003, there have been 18 accidents on Teton Pass involving trucks, vans or buses, according to information compiled by the state highway department.
Earlier this year, a truck weighing at least 85,000 pounds — about 30,000 pounds over the limit — careened off the highway, killing the driver, age 36. The crash alarmed valley residents, many of whom live at the base of pass and worry about the safety of drivers and pedestrians coming in and out of businesses in Wilson.
Legislators praised highway patrolmen and women for policing the pass. But they’re also considering legislation that would increase fines for truckers who dangerously ignore closure signs and other prohibitions.
Legislators suggested patrolmen cite commercial truck drivers without offering them the chance to simply pay a fine.
Officers instead could write a “must appear” ticket, meaning the driver would have to appear in court and might face jail time.
In addition, legislators said signs could help drivers make better decisions. Getting more signs along Idaho highways — near Interstate 15 and Highway 33 as well as near the turnoff from Highway 20 onto Highway 33 — might send drivers to safer routes.
“It would be good to have signage warning truckers to not take that route to access Wyoming but rather proceed onto Highway 26 further south,” legislators said in the letter. “We have heard from truckers that these two decision points are important and if there had been signage there, they would have made a better choice.”
That particular route would take truckers through Swan Valley and down to Alpine rather than over Teton Pass.
Installing signs closer to the pass also would warn truckers.
“One possible idea is to require all trailers to pull over at the unmanned weigh station and self-weigh themselves,” lawmakers said in the letter. “At the weigh station there could be signs stating the extreme nature of the pass ahead, and perhaps even have pictures of previous accidents.”
Letting drivers know they can turn their trucks around at the Coal Creek trailhead might persuade some not to attempt the mountain pass, legislators said.
“We have heard from truckers that they have made the mistake of starting up the pass, but not understanding that Coal Creek is the last place to turn around,” they said in the letter. “It is not until you get up past Coal Creek that you may actually realize the extent and seriousness of the road grade ahead.”
Legislators also advocated more communication between WYDOT and members of the trucking industry. They want to address problems with mapping software, which sometimes directs unknowing drivers across the pass without warning of its hazards.