Teton County fights Moose-Wilson road plan
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: October 5, 2012
Teton County commissioners are fighting to get Grand Teton National Park officials to scrap a plan to close Moose-Wilson Road to southbound traffic.
A park spokeswoman said late Thursday that park officials hadn’t de-cided to close the road to southbound vehicles. She said that was one idea being considered.
But county commissioners Hank Phibbs and Ben Ellis said Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott told them something different.
The two said Gibson Scott told them Wednesday that park officials are moving forward with plans to limit the road to northbound traffic next summer.
Phibbs and Ellis fear shutting the road to southbound traffic could put more pressure on Spring Gulch Road and roads inside town limits at a time when major construction is planned.
“It was frustrating to our board,” Ellis said Thursday.
Prohibiting southbound travel on the Moose-Wilson Road could hurt Teton Village’s economy, endanger cyclists and derail county transportation goals, Ellis said.
Commissioners understand that park officials must protect the road and wildlife that frequent it, but they said a unilateral decision isn’t the right way to approach the topic.
“The goal of having a long-term corridor that respects wildlife resources ... we support that,” Ellis said. “But we support doing that through a public process, just like what the county or WYDOT would go through. That’s appropriate to address public concerns.”
Commissioners also sent a letter Thursday to National Park Service Regional Director John Wessels asking him to review plans to restrict traffic on Moose-Wilson Road.
“We strongly oppose this decision,” they wrote, “which would restrict public access and impact economic and transportation resources throughout Teton County. We urge you to reject it before it is considered further.”
Park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said prohibiting southbound traffic is only one option park officials are studying. They’re trying to figure out how they can reduce traffic on the road and still allow access, she said.
“We know traffic is increasing and will continue to increase,” Skaggs said. “At some point it will be to the detriment of the enjoyment of that road as a country lane and more of a backroad experience.”
An average of 1,800 to 2,000 cars travel the road daily, Skaggs said. Park officials are hoping to cut that number to preserve the road and reduce pressure on wildlife.
“We’re looking to cut down on it being used as a commuter route,” she said. “It’s a slow, windy road with lots of wildlife and the potential for congestion.”
Skaggs said there isn’t a deadline for making a decision.
Park officials are planning to realign the road from north of the Death Canyon trailhead to the Teton Park Road. That project is set for 2016.
Commissioners are also trying to block plans to move money from a new pathway.
Federal authorities awarded Grand Teton park $2.9 million in 2011 to pay design and planning costs for a pathway between Moose and Antelope Flats.
Park officials spent some of the money on design work and realized they don’t have enough to complete the pathway, which would require a bridge over Ditch Creek, Skaggs said. Instead, they’re trying to figure out whether they could use the remaining money to slow traffic on North Highway 89 near the Gros Ventre Junction, several miles south.
Without having enough money to finish the next phase of the pathway, Skaggs said, it would be prudent to address more immediate safety problems.
“It still would be in keeping with the pathway,” she said. “It’s still related to the pathway and construction of the pathway down there because it would be creating a safer option.”
“We want to go on the record as opposing the use of pathway funds to dress up what sounds like a traffic-calming project as a pathway project and change the priorities previously expressed to the community,” Ellis said in a letter to Gibson Scott.