Landslide destroys section of major highway over Teton Pass

State agencies, local governments and businesses in Jackson Hole are scrambling to resolve a barrage of problems after a landslide ripped an 80-foot section of Wyoming Highway 22 over Teton Pass, closing the vital commuter and commercial route for the foreseeable future.

“Everyone is mobile,” Teton County Commission Chairman Luther Propst said Saturday. “The county is looking at camping options at the fairgrounds” for Idaho commuters who work in Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is also looking at camping options and St. John's Health “will certainly have to move quickly,” he said.

The highway connecting the Jackson area to Victor, Idaho, is closed after a landslide. (Wyoming Highway Patrol drone)

“It is rumored that the railroad will remain closed for several weeks or months,” Propst said. Transportation officials met with staff from Gov. Mark Gordon's office Saturday morning to “coordinate a cross-agency response to this situation,” Wyoming Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stephanie Harsha said in an email.

The landslide washed out the highway on the west side of the 8,700-foot-high pass between Wilson and Victor, Idaho, on Friday evening. The highway – a major artery that much of Jackson Hole's workforce uses daily to reach cheaper housing in Idaho – is used annually by 7,351 vehicles per day east of Victor, according to a 2021 Idaho traffic count.

“Some of my other foremen aren't used to constantly driving around the horn, and they want something to get sorted out quickly.”

Greg Johnson, Construction Manager

At the time of the breakdown, the motorway was closed because a mudslide further west had made the route impassable.

“The good news is that no one was injured in the accident,” Propst said.

According to a report by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, road workers were attempting to patch a crack in the road's asphalt – a sign of underlying instability – when the road gave way and slid several hundred feet down the slope.

Commuters, tourists and commerce between Pierre's Hole in Idaho and Teton County in Wyoming must detour south to a longer route through Swan Valley, Alpine and the Snake River Canyon. This detour adds 62 miles and more than an hour to a trip that normally covers 24 miles in 36 minutes. The total distance and time for a trip from Victor to Jackson is now 86 miles and one hour and 42 minutes.

Hoback backups

The closure of Highway 22 will significantly increase traffic from Jackson through the Snake River Canyon to Alpine, and the impacts are already being felt. WDOT recorded an average daily traffic count of 3,571 vehicles through the canyon in 2021.

“I think it's going to be chaos if you put all the people from Victor and all the people from Star Valley together,” said Bob Hill, a Wilson resident who drove through the canyon on Friday. Even at midday, not rush hour, “it was basically car-on-car traffic all the way to Alpine and back.”

Greg Johnson, a construction manager who has lived near Victor for 30 years and commutes to Jackson Hole, was driving home Friday night via the longer, southbound alternate. Southbound traffic at the Hoback roundabout was backed up for “probably close to a mile,” he said.

The breakdown of Highway 22 over Teton Pass from Wilson to Victor, Idaho, began just days before a catastrophic landslide forced WYDOT to close the vital route. (WYDOT)

“More vehicles were driving through than the system could handle,” Johnson said.

As he drove the long way to his Saturday shift in Jackson using his cellphone, Johnson said he learned to take some of the challenges of commuting in stride.

“As a superintendent, half of my job is planning,” he said. “It gives me more time to plan. It's annoying, but there are worse torments in the world.”

Others are less confident.

“Some of my other foremen aren't used to driving around the horn all the time, and they want something to get sorted out quickly,” Johnson said. “The funny thing is, a lot of my coworkers are now from Idaho Falls; it just takes them 10 to 15 minutes longer.”

Commissioner Propst described the situation as “rapidly evolving.” WYDOT “is all over the place,” he said.

The county will be the first to have updated information on Monday when the commission meets at 9 a.m., he said.

“This shows how risky it is to have so many of our local workforce commute over a geologically unstable pass,” Propst said. “This is certainly a very clear example of why we need a better balance between the number of jobs and the number of housing that the people who do those jobs need.”

This article has been updated to correct the name of the canyon between Hoback Junction and Alpine and a misspelling of Propst's name. — Ed.

Anna Harden

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