Teton Pass Collapse Also ‘Catastrophic’ For Jackson’s Out-Of-Town Workforce

The collapse of Highway 22 over Teton Pass has not only cut off a lifeline between Idaho and Wyoming, it’s also severed the main way to and from work for a huge segment of Jackson’s out-of-town workforce.

Renée Jean

June 10, 20249 min read

Work is going quickly at the S curve that failed on Teton Pass over the weekend.
Work is going quickly at the S curve that failed on Teton Pass over the weekend. (WYDOT Teton County)

Driving back from Missoula, Montana, on Sunday after a soccer match, Jackson resident Sadek Darwiche found himself among those taking an alternate route now that Teton Pass has washed out and been closed for the foreseeable future.

Among the things he noticed during the drive are the lack of signs to help direct people through this alternate route into Jackson from Idaho, as well as the timing of stop lights, which he said seemed off when it comes to keeping the traffic moving.

“I feel for the people who are going to have to drive around that,” he told Teton County Commissioners on Monday during a meeting to discuss strategies to deal with the washout, which has closed one of four primary routes into Jackson right as tourism season is grinding into high gear.

“As you know, we have Legacy Lodge, and I would like to let you know that is 57 units,” Darwiche said. “It is fully built and connected to the grid.”

It also has, thanks to a decision by the Darwiche family to move ahead with the conversion of the facility in spite of two ongoing lawsuits, full kitchenettes.

That’s putting them in a good position now to help with the crisis the washout presents to some of Jackson’s essential workers, many of whom live in Idaho because of the cost of housing in Jackson.

“I don’t know what the process might be involved here, but we’re happy to provide housing for the county and the town for essential workers,” Darwiche said. “And to reach out to financial institutions, schools and other private business owners asking for that housing.”

Community Banding Together

The Darwiches’ offer is one of several bubbling up from the community of Jackson, which is closing ranks to help its businesses and workers deal with what the Wyoming Department of Transportation has called a “catastrophic” failure of Teton Pass, a vital artery between Jackson and Idaho.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is also offering to help house Idaho workers on a temporary basis, if some of the area’s restrictions on density of housing are lifted, said Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Mary Katey Buckley.

That would enable JHMR to add bunkbeds and things like that to help ease the crush on area hotels.

“Every employer is looking for housing, so that might just open up a little bit,” she said.

Kudar Motel was just one of the many housing options in Jackson that was feeling that crush Monday.

“We received more than 20 calls to our office on Saturday looking for housing,” Michael Kudar told Cowboy State Daily. “Wanting to know if we rent our cabins, motel and RV spots.”

Kudar said he has limited spaces to offer and is evaluating all the requests to see which ones he can best help with.

“I’m helping FC Excavation with two RV spots,” he said. “They’ll be working on the pass until it’s fixed.”

Sadek Darwiche talks with Teton County commissioners Monday about the closure of Teton Pass and its impact on the Jackson community, especially businesses and workers who live outside the town.
Sadek Darwiche talks with Teton County commissioners Monday about the closure of Teton Pass and its impact on the Jackson community, especially businesses and workers who live outside the town. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Temporary Housing Fix Will Require Changes To The Rules

JHMR told Teton County Commissioners it would like to see some restrictions lifted so they could allow RVs and mobile housing units at Stillson, and temporary housing at Teton Village as well.

“We would prioritize WYDOT’s construction crews,” she said.

JHMR also asked Teton County to consider lifting restrictions on workers who live in Idaho.

“They typically aren’t eligible for workforce housing on our side,” she said. “So, we would need to have some relief for that.”

Working Remotely

JHMR is also among Jackson businesses that are allowing as many workers as possible to work remotely from home.

On Monday, that included spokesperson Andrew Way, who told Cowboy State Daily he was working remotely from his dining room.

“We’re offering remote work to anyone who’s able to do that from the Idaho side,” he said.

Others, like mechanics who can’t work remotely, have already been placed in temporary housing situations with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Way said.

“We had those folks in there on Sunday, maybe Saturday night, and we’re working to get more of that put together as needed,” he said.

At this point, Way doesn’t know how many JHMR workers are affected by the Teton Pass closure.

“I think as a community, we’re in an evaluative period right now,” he said. “We’re waiting to figure out how long a repair, a permanent repair, might take. We’re waiting to figure out is there a feasible drive-around on Teton Pass somewhere, and I know WYDOT has already talked about that. And we’re working to figure out how many employees can work from home, and how many can’t. So it’s hard to put hard numbers to things yet.”

Way said the executive team has already had three meetings to discuss the situation over the weekend, and more meetings are planned today.

About That Commute

For those who can’t work from home — many have pets or other responsibilities that prevent them from temporarily living in Jackson — their roundtrip has just gotten a lot longer.

The detour route from Victor to Jackson adds at least another hour of driving time one-way to what is normally a 35-to-40-minute commute into Jackson, which many of the town’s essential workers rely upon, particularly emergency first responders, doctors, and nurses.

The new route, which winds through Swan Valley, Irwin and the Palisades on the Idaho side, and then Alpine, Hoback and South Park on the Wyoming side, is an estimated 1 hour and 35 minutes, according to Google maps.

But it’s been taking some commuters much longer than that to go the long way around. They’re trapped behind tourists who are not trying to get to work and who have no reason to be in a hurry. Some of those are even making “quick” stops in the middle of the traffic jams to take photos of wildlife and scenery.

That’s making the drive more like 2.5 hours for some, including nurses, some of whom already work long 12-hour shifts.

That has St. John’s Hospital already looking for ways to house health care workers nearby.

“About 20% of our workforce commutes over from Teton Valley,” Communications Officer Karen Connelly told Teton County Commissioners. “And of that number, about 115 of our team members are folks that need to be on site to do their jobs, for us to provide our services. We’re fully open. We don’t anticipate any scale back. But there are needs.”

Connelly added many of the employees have families, pets and homes that require attention.

“They can’t just simply quickly relocate to live here,” she said. “So I think van-pooling is something we see as a community solution that we would love to be part of.”

The hospital is also looking to a crisis fund to provide support to its employees for additional gas money, as well as financial incentives for carpooling.

“The strain is going to be real,” she said. “Those are long days for people.”

  • The reroute through Swan Valley on the Idaho side and then Snake River Canyon between Alpine and Hoback north into Jackson, Wyoming.
    The reroute through Swan Valley on the Idaho side and then Snake River Canyon between Alpine and Hoback north into Jackson, Wyoming. (Google)
  • Teton Pass landslide at hairpin curve on the highway.
    Teton Pass landslide at hairpin curve on the highway. (Google)
  • Teton Pass showing both incidents, the failure and a mudslide.
    Teton Pass showing both incidents, the failure and a mudslide. (Google)

Relief Could Be Weeks Away

The extra commute might not last too long.

Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Darin Westby told Teton County Commissioners he believes he’ll have a solution “within weeks” rather than months.

That solution involves constructing a temporary detour route around the slide area using local fill material and paving two temporary lanes.

That would likely have strict weight and width restrictions, Westby said, but would be feasible within weeks, not the months some residents had been fearing.

Westby also said geologists and engineers are evaluating the area and working on a long-term plan for rebuilding the road. He didn’t give an estimated timeline for that.

They will be flying the area with a survey plan and doing some geological drilling in connection with that.

At the same time, WYDOT and the U.S. Forest Service are examining options to provide recreation outside the slide area, in spite of the road closure.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will remain open for visitors, and signage is coming for campsites unaffected by the landslide at milepost 12.8 and the mudslide at milepost 15.

Work to provide more drainage to the area will take place simultaneously with temporary detour work at milepost 12.8.

Notifications involving the area are available online.

In The Meantime

Casey Cochran, Jackson Chamber of Commerce director of membership, is among workers who commute to Jackson from Star Valley.

That route has been dramatically affected by the addition of so many commuters coming in from Idaho, he told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

“I definitely saw the change in the commute this morning,” he said. “I left for work about 45 minutes earlier than I normally would today.”

It was all “smooth sailing,” until he got to the bridge over by Astoria Hot Springs.

“At 7 a.m. this morning, it was backed up, that entire section between Hoback Junction and the Astoria Hot Springs Bridge area,” he said. “It was a pretty crazy thing to see at 7 a.m.”

Cochran estimated the line was 150 to 250 cars long, moving about 15-25 mph.

“It’s about a mile section between the roundabout at Hoback Junction to Astoria Bridge,” he said. “And that was backed up, the entire section.”

Things went faster than he’d anticipated they would.

“People were really on their best behavior,” he said. “I think a lot of people probably ended up working remotely today. We’re kind of waiting and seeing what is going to happen, but I’d anticipate that traffic is going to get worse over the next couple of days. Hopefully employers will offer some leeway for staff members to try to alleviate some of that congestion.”

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter