The stretch of Teton Pass from the Coal Creek chain-up area to the Old Pass Road entrance near Wilson is set to be reduced from 55 to 45 mph, with signs going up as early as September.
While the change still has to go through the final Wyoming Department of Transportation approvals, many in the region view it as a formality.
Even with the reduced speed limit, Teton County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Kurt Drumheller, who commutes from Teton Valley to work in Wyoming, doesn’t expect to see much change in driver behavior.
“I don’t think anybody’s gonna change their driving habits,” said Drumheller. “Even if you were to change it to 35, people are still gonna drive exactly the same way they are driving right now.”
Currently, the speed limit is 55 mph across the whole pass. That means people can round the summit corner legally at 55 miles per hour, even though very few drivers do.
Most drivers’ speed is instead limited by the grade of the climbs and tightness of the curves, if not the traffic in front of them. For this reason, Drumheller doesn’t expect to be passing out too many tickets.
“I think it will take care of itself ‘cause all you need is one car doing 45 and then every car is doing 45,” said Drumheller. “There’s so much traffic over here that you can’t really go too fast otherwise you’re going to catch up to the next group of vehicles.”
Instead, the change is aimed to warn drivers that congestion and slower drivers up ahead, particularly near pullouts, are imminent.
“It’s more of an effort to get people to pay attention to what they’re doing and to watch the road,” said Drumheller. “Reducing the speed limit from 55 to 45 is kind of an easier change that they can make to get people’s attention. I hope people will heed the warnings.”
With the pass already known as a top-tier recreation destination, this change signals WYDOT is noticing the increased uses that people have.
The Teton Backcountry Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to backcountry skiing and snowboarding in and around the Tetons, was involved in advocacy efforts for the change.
Gary Kofinas, a chairman at the TBCA, spoke to the change as a strong signal that WYDOT is recognizing the role they can have in making the pass’s recreationists safer.
“I think they are increasingly attentive to these issues that are somewhat outside their mission,” said Kofinas. “Their mission is to move cars safely and efficiently, but they’ve been increasingly attentive to recreational uses.”
Drumheller echoed this belief.
“I think they’re trying to do the right thing with everybody’s safety in mind, not only the motorists but also the skiers and recreationists,” said Drumheller.
“People are walking across the road to access the bootpack, the plow truck has to turn around,” said Drumheller. “It is a problem, hopefully we can get people paying attention because it’s a congested area.”
It is important to remember that while recreational users have become accustomed to using the pass as a parking area, WYDOT has these areas along the roadway designated as chain-up areas, brake checking zones, and pull-outs for roadway maintenance and driver emergencies.
“They view that as a pull-out, chain-up area and we view it as a place we go and park our car to go ski or ride bikes or hike,” said Kofinas. “I think there’s more and more recognition that there are multiple uses. We just have to be respectful, keep communicating, and working towards good solutions.”
More information on how WYDOT sets its speed limits can be found here.