Construction crews will be at work throughout the fall rebuilding a road that was last paved when Lyndon B. Johnson was the president and the United States was at war in Vietnam.
It was 1965 when the surface of the Gros Ventre Road went in, according to historic reports in the Jackson Hole Guide.
Around the same time the paved road was constructed, the Bridger-Teton National Forest added an all-new campground and boat ramp at Atherton Creek area — the launching-off point for most people recreating in Lower Slide Lake. In recent decades, the 3.75 miles of paved road between the Grand Teton National Park boundary and Atherton Creek has deteriorated to a “deplorable state,” and there have been many years of effort to find a solution, Bridger-Teton Engineer Mike Oltman said.
“I’m really exited that this is finally coming to fruition, because we really have been trying to get this road done for 20-plus years,” Oltman told the Jackson Hole Daily. “It just took us a long time to get some resources.”
Six years ago, the Bridger-Teton sought to rip up the failed road and replace it with gravel due to a lack of funding for a full rebuild. Residents and ranchers of the Gros Ventre objected, and the forest backpedaled, abandoning those plans.
In the meantime, the road past the popular Gros Ventre River jumping rock has remained in disrepair, though residents have volunteered time to fill in potholes each spring.
The Gros Ventre Road’s reputation as a horrible drive will come to an end thanks to a $4.85 million chunk of funding Oltman secured through the Federal Lands Access Program. A stipulation for that funding was that Teton County agreed to take over plowing and maintenance going forward.
RS Bennett Construction, the contractor, has been gearing up for the repaving for weeks, though the project — and the serious delays it will cause — began in earnest on Monday.
For the next month or more, construction crews have the latitude to implement complete road closures between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. and between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., sandwiching a one-hour stretch of one-way traffic.
“There’s just no room in that country for a bypass route,” Oltman said. “I know this is inconvenient for folks, but it’s a three- to four-week window of closures in exchange for 30 years of a nice road.”
Although four-hour closures are possible any day going forward this fall, Oltman was hopeful they would be infrequent and cause as little disruption as possible.
“We’re not going to use every closure every day,” he said. “We’re going to work with landowners to let them get through. We understand there are a lot of people who bring their kids to and from school.”
The rebuilt Gros Ventre Road likely won’t be completed until 2021. The finished product will look like the current road, except for the all-new, smooth surface and some new culverts. The road will not be widened, signed or striped.
“We don’t want to drastically change the character of the road,” Oltman said. “We’re going increase the capacity of the pullouts a little bit, but for the most part, you’re going to see a very similar road.”
With proper maintenance and chip sealing, he said, the rebuilt Gros Ventre Road could last 30 to 40 years.