Large portion of Teton Pass road in Wyoming collapses; unclear how quickly it can be rebuilt

A large portion of a mountain pass road in Wyoming has collapsed, cutting off a busy commuter route between small towns in eastern Idaho and the tourist destination of Jackson.

JACKSON, Wyoming – A large portion of a winding mountain pass road in Wyoming has collapsed, authorities said Saturday, creating a gaping chasm in the highway and cutting off a busy commuter route between small towns in eastern Idaho and the tourist destination of Jackson.

Aerial photographs and drone videos of the collapse show that Teton Pass Road is riddled with deep cracks and a large section of the roadway has disappeared completely. Parts of the guardrail were hanging down and orange traffic drums marked the danger area. The road was closed at the time of the collapse.

The failing section first came to attention on Thursday when a crack and a precipice in the road contributed to a motorcycle accident.

Geologists and engineers dispatched to the area that day noticed that “this crack and this chasm was starting to move a lot,” said Stephanie Harsha, a spokeswoman for Wyoming Department of Transportation District 3. A paver repaired the road temporarily, and traffic was reopened that same evening.

However, this incident was short-lived as in the early hours of Friday morning, maintenance crews were dispatched to a landslide a few kilometres away, necessitating the road being closed again.

Then workers noticed that the damage to the roadway had become more obvious. Workers trying to find a detour around that section left the site that evening, “and by 5 a.m. WYDOT found the road completely broken,” Harsha said Saturday.

“We were very lucky that no crew members were injured. There was no damage to the equipment either,” she said. “Now engineers and geologists are conducting geological surveys at the pass. They have been monitoring it all day.”

The Department of Transportation said on social media that the road had “catastrophically failed” at mile 12.8.

It was not immediately clear how long it would take to reopen the road, a vital artery for people who live across the border in Idaho and work in expensive Jackson, which is also close to the popular Grand Teton National Park.

Harsha said an alternate route between Jackson and the Victor, Idaho, area would involve a detour of more than 60 miles (97 kilometers) and would “significantly lengthen any commute.”

Governor Mark Gordon signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency, which he said will allow the state to receive additional funding from the Federal Highway Administration to begin repairs.

In a statement, the governor said the Department of Transportation was working on “a long-term solution to rebuild this important road.”

“I recognize the significant impact this closure will have on Teton County residents, area commuters and the local economy,” Gordon said.

Anna Harden

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