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Teton Pass reopens with temporary detour after three weeks

A bus drives down a road with construction material on the sides. In the background is a mountainside of green trees and a blue sky.
Wyoming Department of Transportation
A START bus drives down the newly opened detour on Teton Pass on June 28.

After three weeks of around the clock work, the highway over Teton Pass reopened with a temporary detour on June 28. A more permanent rebuild is in the works ahead of winter storms.

The roughly 600-foot detour caps speeds at a reduced 20 miles per hour and the turn is tighter than before, with a steeper grade of 11 percent.

The usual 60,000 pound weight restriction – think a lightly laden semi-truck – still applies. Trailer traffic is allowed.

Just days before the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) cleared Highway 22 for traffic, about half a bus full of state and local legislators, transportation officials and media members filed into seats in Wilson, donning orange vests and dark sunglasses.

Jovial jabber filled the aisles, like a bureaucratic field trip, as passengers were carried up the closed Teton Pass highway to get a look at what WYDOT is calling the Big Fill landslide for themselves.

At the active job site, crews worked to pave a section of the detour behind WYDOT Director Daryn Westby. He congratulated those involved with the detour construction.

Some white vehicles drive on a newly paved road.
Wyoming Department of Transportation

“That’s why we put forward every manpower, brainpower, expertise to get this thing open as quick as possible,” he said.

Westby said quick construction was a priority, but so was safety.

“Safe is first, right? So we wanted to make sure that our design and construction was always going to be safe,” he said.

Scott Evans works with Evans Construction, which won a nearly half-million dollar contract for the detour work. He said there has been political and community pressure on WYDOT to get the pass open — and he and his crews have felt it.

“It’s like we’re torn apart as a family and you want to put that back together,” he said.

He said his crew members worked 12-hour shifts every day to ensure the pass opened on time.

“They aren’t getting that decompression time, so yeah, it’s a little bit more taxing on them and I know they’re getting a little bit burnt out,” he said.

The quick construction has led some community members and local officials to voice concerns about the safety of the detour and eventual rebuild, despite WYDOT's repeated confidence in it.

An aereal shot of a new road being paved, mostly surrounded by dirt.
Wyoming Department of Transportation

Evans has heard the concerns from some he calls “armchair quarterbacks.” But he said the project has gone smoothly.

“I would stake my reputation on that this fill that we put in will last longer than the fill that just fell,” he said.

WYDOT has had to dig into its budget to finish the detour, despite being awarded $6 million in federal “quick release” emergency response funds. More is expected.

With the detour ready for action, WYDOT now turns its attention to a looming permanent rebuild expected to begin in August after the planning, design and bid process. A completion date is slated for November before winter storms hit.

Initial estimates say the detour and rebuild together will cost about 30 million dollars.

The highway also experienced a mudslide at milepost 15, which is not related to the Big Fill slide. Crews have installed culverts in the area and may continue working on repairs alongside traffic.

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.