WYDOT says no to Teton tunnel
By Mark Huffman, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
February 25, 2013
Motorists tired of driving over Teton Pass had better get used to it, because they probably won’t be driving under it anytime soon.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation said a proposed tunnel under the often-hazardous pass would cost about $260 million. That’s what WYDOT spent last year on all its construction projects.
According to recently released research, the 1.4-mile two-lane tunnel that was studied would also cost $500,000 a year to maintain. The conclusion, WYDOT staff said, is that “the costs are too high and there are too many variables and unknowns to justify the continued investigation of constructing a tunnel through Teton Pass.”
But supporters aren’t ready to let such doubts roadblock their dream.
Jackson Hole resident Steve Duerr, a lawyer and former chamber of commerce director, still thinks the tunnel is a good idea.
“We need a clear 2020 tunnel vision,” he said. “I believe we can at least have the ground-breaking in seven years.”
Duerr said the tunnel would improve safety, avoid periodic winter shutdowns because of avalanches and “could tie the valleys together.”
“There’s a lot of people over here on the Driggs side of the mountain who commute to Jackson every day,” said Kerry Buxton, a member of the Teton Valley Business Development Center, a pro-business group aligned with the area’s chamber of commerce. “It’s pretty up on top but it becomes a hazard, especially in winter.”
WYDOT says traffic over Teton Pass averages 5,000 vehicles daily.
From his side, Buxton said, “in the morning you can see a line of red taillights heading up the pass and at night you can see a line of white coming back.”
The idea of a tunnel has recurred over the years, most recently last May when Duerr suggested it at a WYDOT meeting in Jackson.
Duerr said Sunday he’s talked to tunnel experts who told him the WYDOT numbers may be too high.
WYDOT’s study was of a tunnel from this side of Glory Bowl — the most frequent and dangerous avalanche areas — to the other side near mile 11.6. Highway 22 would be underground for about 7,400 feet.
WYDOT assumed two 12-foot travel lanes and two eight-foot shoulders. The bore would be about 15 feet high.
Cost estimates for building and maintenance were based on the 1.7-mile Eisenhower Tunnel, which takes I-70 under the Continental Divide between Denver and Breckenridge.
The WYDOT cost estimate didn’t include disposing of an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of excavated rock.
WYDOT calculated that a 40-year bond issue to pay the cost would bring monthly payments for the tunnel, with maintenance, to $1.67 million.
If the project were to be done as a toll tunnel, WYDOT said, the cost of paying for maintenance and bonds would be more than $11 for a one-way trip.
Duerr suggested employers might be willing to pay some of that cost.