Another out-of-control semi barreled down Teton Pass on Monday. Again we raise the question of why overweight and inadequately prepared commercial traffic is allowed on Teton Pass.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation has invested millions into various infrastructure meant to make the pass safer: a weigh-in-motion scale at the Wyoming/Idaho border, a second scale just east of the border at a pullout where truck drivers can stop and weigh themselves, reinforced guardrails and a “catch-net” arrestor system about 2 miles uphill from Wilson. But two long-standing runaway truck ramps were reclaimed after the catch-net was put in place.
The arrestor — a complex piece of engineering that cost $3.6 million to build and tens of thousands of dollars to reset each time it’s used — has saved several runaway trucks so far. But it is closed while WYDOT investigates why the system failed Sept. 10 to stop a pickup truck towing a load of logs.
The scale at the weigh station has also been out of service since a van struck and heavily damaged the station’s shack almost two months ago. The weigh-in-motion scale is working and sent a notice to dispatch when the overweight semi passed over it Monday. That message apparently wasn’t relayed to Wyoming Highway Patrol, another breakdown in the system. Patrol is supposed to be notified, but even if that happened no officers were nearby to respond.
None of those improvements eliminate the biggest danger: inexperienced truck drivers and those looking to shave time, miles and money off their trips. Add in faulty or inoperable equipment and overweight loads, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
In the past decade many large trucks have crashed descending Highway 22. Usually the only person hurt or killed has been the driver. That’s miraculous, considering many terrified commuters have been spared by feet or even inches.
Crashes have become jokes: Talcum Powder Corner, Tommy’s Truck Stop, free potatoes. But the specter of tragedy is no laughing matter. If we continue to allow tractor trailers, massive motor homes and large box trucks on the pass but lack tools meant to turn around overweight loads or stop vehicles that get out of control, more people will die.
We concede a blanket ban of semi trucks is unlikely. Therefore, WYDOT should at least ban semis and other heavy loads during periods when the appropriate tools and staffing are not available to ensure the safety of everyone — especially 8,000 or so daily commuters from Idaho.
The Legislature also needs to change the law to hold drivers accountable with higher fines and mandatory revocation of their commercial driver’s licenses for violating laws. Legislative action is needed.
A selection of major dump truck and tractor-trailer accidents on Highway 22 over Teton Pass.