The Wyoming Department of Transportation will reevaluate the speed limit at the top of 8,432-foot Teton Pass in response to requests from county commissioners and a group of backcountry recreationists.
“While we recognize that there is existing pedestrian crossing signage in the area,” the Teton County Board of County Commissioners wrote in a July 13 letter to the department, “we are requesting that WYDOT conduct a thorough speed study to determine if signage and speeds updates are prudent to reflect the dramatic increase in vehicular traffic and recreational users.”
Teton Pass gets crowded in the winter and to a lesser extent the summer. It’s a rare spot in Wyoming where backcountry recreation and commuter traffic collide.
On average, some 8,000 vehicles take Highway 22 over Teton Pass each day, many commuting from Victor or Driggs, Idaho, to jobs in Jackson.
Avalanches are the main source of tension between skiers, commuters and highway workers. A slide in Glory Bowl or Twin Slides can close the road, keeping Idaho workers from getting to work or getting back home.
At the top of the pass, skiers park in what WYDOT refers to as a “brake check pullout” and cross the highway to get to the bootpack that leads to the top of 10,033-foot Mount Glory.
That confluence of pedestrians and motorists is where the Teton Backcountry Alliance thinks some work needs to be done, a conclusion that came from a survey of Teton Pass recreationists and commuters, which the group conducted in April 2019.
“What happens is the cars coming from the west kind of pop up, kind of appear, and you have to move across that road,” Gary Kofinas, chairman of the Alliance’s steering committee, told the Jackson Hole Daily. The situation can get sketchy, he said: “The road is icy, and you’ve got your dog on a leash, and you’ve got your skis and big boots.”
Kofinas sent a letter to WYDOT Director Luke Reiner in February, asking the state transportation agency to consider four recommendations that came out of the April 2019 survey: a new pickup area at the bottom of the pass near Trail Creek Road, continued snow removal from the “pullout” parking area at the top of the pass, new snow sheds for the Glory and Twin Slides avalanche corridors and a lower speed limit at the top of the pass.
Other than snow removal, which WYDOT said would continue, the speed limit was the recommendation that stuck.
Reiner didn’t advocate for or against changing the rule in his email response to Kofinas, but he did lay out the process for changing speed limits, which can be done after a speed study is conducted.
County commissioners begin the process with a written request, like the one sent on July 13.
WYDOT District Engineer Darin Kaufman said the department was planning to do the speed study and would probably wrap it up in early 2021. But he wondered whether a reduced speed limit would actually solve any problems. In mountainous terrain, he said, “roadway features” tend to dictate traveling speed.
“Just because you’ve reduced the speed, the potential of having a conflict doesn’t change,” Kaufman said. “You don’t change the number of vehicles, and you can’t change the number of pedestrians crossing the roadway. The really true fix is to separate those conflicts.”
Or perhaps there is a simpler solution, like additional signage. But, Kofinas said, that “is a question for the experts.”