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Teton Pass closed indefinitely due to landslide, which will carry significant impacts to local and state economies

The main corridor connecting Eastern Idaho and Northwest Wyoming for commuters and tourists alike “catastrophically failed” the morning of June 8 due to a landslide. Officials say there is no estimated time of reopening.

The closure will impact the area's workforce and the state economy. Teton County generated over a third of the state’s travel and tourism tax revenue in 2022. Gov. Mark Gordon has issued an emergency declaration to garner federal support.

Teton County, home to the popular tourist mountain town of Jackson, depends on at least 2,500 workers who live on the other side of the pass in Idaho. That’s about 15 percent of the county’s total workforce as of 2020, according to the state.

Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START), which provides commuter service weekdays from Driggs, Idaho to Jackson, plans to send buses on an alternative route starting June 10. The revision makes what’s normally a roughly 45 minute ride a two-hour ride.

The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce has released a guide for businesses and Jackson hospitality partners detailing an alternate access route via the Snake River Canyon that connects Wyoming Highway 26 to U.S. Route 98 through Alpine. That’s a two-hour drivetime the Chamber expects will increase as more cars use it.

“We encourage both visitors and residents to support the community by exercising additional patience and understanding to employees and businesses who may be affected by the closure,” the resource guide reads. “Stay up to date with road closure information and obey all roadside signs, traffic control devices and closures. Reduce the traffic on the road by using alternative transportation (bus, bike, walk) or delaying unnecessary travel.”

Jackson Hole is still accessible from the north, south and east using traditional routes.

The Chamber said businesses in Jackson Hole will remain open but adds that with an estimated 40 percent of Teton County’s workforce commuting from Idaho, visitors and locals should be prepared for longer than normal wait times or interruptions in services.

Gov. Gordon’s emergency declaration directs the director of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to “take all appropriate and necessary actions,” including the partial and full mobilization of homeland security organizations and personnel, to respond to the incident.

“We are closely monitoring this ongoing situation, and Wyoming Department of Transportation personnel are working diligently to develop a long-term solution to rebuild this critical roadway,” Gordon said in a statement announcing the order. “I recognize the significant impacts this closure has to Teton County residents, regional commuters and the local economy.”

A press release from the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) said crews were working Friday night to build a temporary repair for a landslide at milepost 12.8. On Saturday, state and contract crews from Evans Construction were working to build a detour around the damage, “but the landslide continued to move, taking out the whole road. No crews were hurt in the process, and no equipment was damaged.”

The landslide at milepost 12.8 follows a separate mudslide a few miles away early Friday morning that had closed the roadway already.

WYDOT has released a video of the damaged roadway.

A water resource specialist with Teton Conservation District said in an email to Jackson Hole Community Radio that Teton County is in peak runoff from mountain snowpacks, due to very high temperatures during the day and very warm overnight lows. Bob Hammond, a WYDOT engineer, said that these events can “absolutely” be attributed to runoff season as water is one of three factors that cause landslides.

For up-to-date Wyoming road and traffic conditions, drivers can sign up for 511 here, or dial 511 or 1-888-WYO-ROAD.

Dante Filpula Ankney comes to KHOL as a lifelong resident of the Mountain West. He made his home on the plains of Eastern Montana before moving to the Western Montana peaks to study journalism and wilderness studies. Dante has found success producing award-winning print, audio and video stories for a variety of publications, including a stint as a host at Montana Public Radio. Most recently, he spent a year teaching English in Bulgaria through a Fulbright Fellowship. When he isn’t reporting, you can find Dante outside scaling rocks, sliding across snow or winning a game of cribbage.
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