Federal land and highway managers are dreaming up concepts for improving safety and congestion on Teton Pass, mulling public transit, paid parking and snowsheds, as well as underpasses at parking areas.
The concepts are conceptual for the moment, worked up after Teton County, the U.S. Forest Service and a host of other partners received a $300,000 federal public lands access grant that gave them the money to begin a study of the whole Teton Pass corridor, from the Stilson parking lot at the intersection of highways 22 and 390 to Victor, Idaho.
The public has until Friday to weigh in on the first stage of the process, as the Federal Highway Administration prepares a “menu” of pass improvements.
Eliminating parking on the pass is not being studied, said Hagen Hammons, the FHWA’s project manager. Rather, the feds, Teton County, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and the Bridger-Teton National Forest are looking at ways to give people other options for accessing popular summertime trailheads and backcountry skiing — and what sorts of carrots and sticks could guide skiers, hikers, cyclists and runners toward possible future public transportation options.
“We want to get people out of their single-occupancy vehicles as much as possible,” Hammons said. “It’s becoming a more congested area every year, and one reason is because the Teton Pass corridor is a world-class recreation destination, and more and more people are recognizing that.”
At the same time, Hammons and Todd Stiles, the Bridger-Teton’s Jackson District ranger, agreed that one of the most important ideas in the project is less about transportation and more about parking: reimagining the popular Phillips Bench area, where people park in the summer and cross the busy highway to access the Ski Lake Trail and popular mountain biking trails on the north and south sides of the pass.
Stiles said it would be great to “avoid all that interaction.”
To minimize conflict between recreationists and motorists at Phillips Bench, officials are looking at developing a parking area on the north side of the highway, paving the parking area on the south side and building an underpass to allow hikers and bikers to cross the highway out of the way of traffic.
The idea of a shuttle serving backcountry skiers on Teton Pass has been discussed in the community for about 25 years. During the winter of 2005-06 the Forest Service briefly considered a proposal for a free shuttle that would have been sponsored by an online retailer, but the idea flamed out.
A draft document outlining what federal and local officials are eyeing is available at TinyURL.com/23tpstudy, the same link where people can find a survey to let the Federal Highway Administration know what they think about the concepts. Hammons said the goal of the survey is to get “people’s opinions on what they like the best, what they don’t like.”
Gary Kofinas, policy chair for the Teton Backcountry Alliance, which advocates for human-powered backcountry recreation in the Tetons, encouraged people to weigh in, noting that the federal highway officials working on the study aren’t based in Jackson. He wished there had been more involvement of nongovernmental groups before the first document was released.
“That said, there’s an opportunity to take what they have done, to sharpen it, to modify it to reflect the local knowledge of the people here,” Kofinas said.
Once the Teton Pass Corridor Plan is finalized — and there will be another round of public comment before it is — Teton County, WYDOT and the Forest Service aim to use the study to determine what projects to prioritize. With the study in hand, they can propose projects for public review under the National Environmental Policy Act, and possibly apply for federal grants to build or implement them.
Here’s a rundown of some of what the Federal Highway Administration is considering. You can read more online at JHNewsAndGuide.com.
Teton Pass shuttles
Teton County officials, backcountry recreation advocates and forest managers have tangled with the idea of a shuttle for years, demonstrating the service once in 2020 and again this winter.
The Federal Highway Administration also is considering a shuttle, though it’s not clear who would run it. START lacks the capacity to operate the service because it has a shortage of drivers for its regular schedules. But it could help administer a private contract or help secure federal funding for vehicles to lower the overall cost of the project. What it would cost to run would vary.
“If ultimately you could get people doing less driving, and the shuttle system was frequent enough and reliable enough that it met people’s needs, I think it would be popular,” Stiles said.
What could I have to pay? $5 for a daily transit pass, $30 for a season pass. Discussion of offering a combined transit and parking pass for $80 annually.
Where could the shuttle stop? The FHWA is considering a winter shuttle service that would run from Stilson to Coal Creek and one that would serve the full corridor, from Victor Depot to Stilson. The shuttle would stop at most prominent parking areas. In the summer the shuttle would serve only the east side of the corridor.
When could the shuttle run? The idea is to run winter shuttles from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with either hourly departures or departures every half hour. But officials are considering two other options: running it only on weekends and holidays or running it all week. In the summer the weekend and holiday-only and all-week options also are being considered. But the idea would be to operate the shuttle from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Could the shuttle system pay for itself? Never in the winter, per preliminary cost estimates. In each permutation of the conceptual shuttle considered — weekend only, weeklong, east side only or across the full corridor — a subsidy would be required for winter.
Stiles, the Jackson District ranger, said the Bridger-Teton would seriously consider paid parking across Teton Pass. While the Bridger-Teton primarily administers federal land on the east side of Teton Pass, the Caribou-Targhee is in charge of land on the west side.
Paid parking is required on federal lands around the West, including the Pacific Northwest, where a single pass gives drivers access to the Wallowa-Whitman, Deschutes and Okanogan-Wenatchee national forests.
Things that need to be figured out include how to dispose of human waste if parking areas are developed as formal trailheads, where trailheads should be developed, who would administer the parking program and how it would be enforced.
With the exception of Trail Creek and the Mike Harris Campground, most parking areas on Teton Pass are unofficial pullouts in the WYDOT right of way along Highway 22. Formalizing them could require development of the forest.
What could I have to pay? $10 for daily parking pass, season pass for $60. There’s discussion of a combined transit and parking pass for $80 annually.
Where could I have to pay? Parking areas between Trail Creek and the Mike Harris Campground.
When could I have to pay? Winter only, meaning Dec. 14 through the end of March, summer only, meaning June 1 through Labor Day, or both.
Could the parking system pay for itself? Yes. If used in the summer and winter, requiring Teton Pass users to pay for parking would generate a net operating revenue of roughly $400,000.
What about a combined shuttle and parking? In the winter, the only combination of shuttle and paid parking that would pay for itself fully, according to FHA estimates, is if the shuttle operates and paid parking is required seven days a week — only on the east side of the corridor. It would take a roughly $50,000 subsidy to make the shuttle system pencil out across the whole corridor.
Coal Creek improvements
At Coal Creek, officials are eyeballing formalizing the parking area as a U.S. Forest Service trailhead, repurposing the green space in the middle as a shuttle waiting area. If the shuttle only serves the east side of Teton Pass, Coal Creek would serve as the terminus of the westbound shuttle line.
Cost estimate: $700,000 for all improvements
Existing Phillips Bench upgrades
In the existing Phillips Bench parking area, officials are considering paving the parking area and building a highway underpass to allow people to move from the south side parking to north side trails.
Cost estimate: $5.7 million for all improvements. $3 million solely for the pedestrian underpass
North Phillips parking area
The other option being considered for Phillips Bench is building a new parking area on the north side of the highway, where a dirt road leads from Highway 22. Doing so could create a safer place to load and unload snowmobiles, compared to the existing pullout on the side of the highway about a quarter-mile east. Doing so could create 74 parking spaces but would require grading work and the removal of about a dozen trees.
Cost estimate: $3 million
Drivers have killed hundreds of mule deer, moose, elk and other animals along Teton Pass since 1991, when the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation first began collecting data on wildlife-vehicle collisions.
To reduce the risk of such collisions, officials are talking about constructing fencing and wildlife crossings — underpasses or overpasses that allow animals to cross a highway safely — between Coal Creek and the Idaho state line. Specific locations haven't been proposed, but the FHA has provided cost estimates for a range of different crossing types.
Cost estimate: $8 million for an arch overpass, $2.5 million for an arch underpass, $1.5 million for a box culvert underpass and $130,000 per mile for wildlife fencing
Teton Pass summit improvements
In the parking area atop Teton Pass, officials are thinking about building an underpass on the east side to help people cross the highway safely. They're also considering cutting into slopes on the north and south sides of the highway to create space for a shuttle stop and realign where people park on the south side.
Cost estimate: $11.3 million for all improvements, $3 million solely for the pedestrian underpass
Developed Twin Slides parking
Between the summit parking area and the area skiers use as an overflow lot, the FHA has proposed formalizing a parking area in the Twin Slides avalanche path. That would open up some 62 parking spots and require "minimal" grading and earthwork because of the mellow slope.
If a snow shed moves forward, the area could be developed as a combination shed and parking area.
Cost estimate: $800,000 for all improvements, excluding snow shed
Glory, Twin Slides snow sheds
One of the most expensive capital projects considered in the document, snow sheds beneath the Glory and Twin Slides avalanche paths, essentially would create tunnels that drivers could pass through. The concrete structures overhead, meanwhile, would allow avalanche debris to travel over the highway.
One, both or neither shed could be constructed. The upside is that they'd ideally allow the free flow of traffic even in snowy conditions, and that a parking area could be incorporated into the Twin Slides structure. The downside? They're expensive and can act as a dam, impeding natural drainage.
Cost estimate: $23.5 million for the Twin Slides shed and $20.7 million for the Glory Bowl shed; if the Twin Slides shed is built with an auxiliary parking structure, it would cost an additional $7 million.
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