Early on in the virtual Teton Pass Corridor Study meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 26, Jamie Lemon, a transportation planner for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), asked participants to take a live poll about the first few words that come to mind when they think of Teton Pass.
“A lot of people are thinking about recreation themes,” said Lemon, describing the resulting word cloud. “I see skiing, I see hiking. I’m seeing the positive things and also some of the challenges. So, parking, congested, commuter, crowded. Okay this is all really – it’s a good litmus test for us.”
The funding for the new study comes from FHWA’s Federal Lands Access Program, which is aimed at transportation-related projects on roads that improve public access to federal lands. Speaking during her opening remarks, Teton County Engineer Amy Ramage described the effort as “long needed.”
“All of us that live here now know that this road serves thousands of commuters every day. It contains critical wildlife habitat and it also contains world-class trails and recreation opportunities,” Ramage said. “All of these issues combined with severe winter weather and avalanche risk create a need for improvements over what today’s conditions are in both management strategy and the actual physical infrastructure that we have out there.”
To be clear, the study’s not going to be a silver bullet for the pass. Elijah Henley, the transportation planning team lead for FHWA’s Central Federal Lands division, said the final document isn’t meant to be directive. But it will provide a range of options that Teton County and the Wyoming Department of Transportation could pursue to make the busy corridor between Victor, Idaho, and the Stilson Parking Lot safer and more functional.
“What we’ve witnessed and what we’ve heard is just the potential for conflicts – both vehicular, user, modal conflicts, wildlife, etc. – is also growing corresponding to the growth in population and traffic,” Henley said.
Henley answered lots of chatted-in questions during the meeting about what exactly is going to be considered in the study. A potential shuttle for recreationists, speed limits, parking, and wildlife and pedestrian crossings are all yeses. But when KHOL asked about public transportation options specifically for commuters, he said that’s not the main focus of this project.
“I would just say that once you start getting into commute-related solutions, they really are pretty distinct from, I think, recreational, kind of access considerations… the extent to which we’ll get into recommendations related to increased commute service is gonna be limited, but we will touch upon it.”
On the flip side, Jackson District Ranger for the Bridger-Teton National Forest Todd Stiles said the goal isn’t necessarily to open the floodgates for unlimited recreation access on the pass.
“I think it’s safe to say that the intent isn’t to have it be a large-scale expansion of recreation on the pass. We do need to be able to handle the use with the trails we have and everything,” Stiles said. “Essentially, if you build it, they will come. And I think we’re all pretty aware of that.”
Moving forward, the project team is planning to hold another virtual or in-person public meeting this spring depending on the COVID-19 situation. Public comments can be submitted on the project website. A comment period will also follow the publishing of a draft study expected in late summer or early fall 2022.