By Jim Stanford on May 15, 2011
A mudslide running in the Snake River Canyon has forced closure of Highway 26/89, the main route into Jackson Hole from the south and a key commuter artery, for at least several days.
The slide had been pouring mud onto the road since Friday, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation closed the highway at 10 p.m. Saturday when crews could not keep up in clearing debris and the site became dangerous.
Lincoln County Homeland Security & Emergency Management posted on Facebook, “Expect closure for at least the coming week.”
The slide is reminiscent of 1997, when during a similarly wet spring the Dog Creek Mudslide closed the highway for three weeks, until the Wyoming National Guard was called in to clear the debris.
The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning through 3:30 p.m. Tuesday for the Snake and Hoback canyons. The agency warned of the risk of “mudslides, debris flows and rockslides on steep slopes from highly saturated soils and increased snowmelt with increasing temperatures.”
The slide in the Snake canyon occurred at milepost 127, above the river feature Taco Hole. Ed Smith, WyDOT’s Jackson maintenance foreman, described the scene as “a big, oozing blob” of water, mud and rocks.
The Casper Star-Tribune reported:
… by Saturday night, the slide movement had accelerated to a point where two front-end loaders and six trucks could not keep up.
John Eddins, WYDOT District 3 engineer, estimated the debris was reaching the highway at the rate of a couple of feet an hour, and it was moving across the roadway as fast as crews could load it.
Besides the main route into Jackson from Salt Lake City, Highway 26/89 also is a vital commuter corridor for residents of Alpine and Star Valley. The Star-Tribune reported that an average of 5,740 vehicles per day commute to and from Jackson via the highway, according to a 2008 WyDOT traffic study.
The closure comes just as whitewater rafting companies are beginning to run trips. In 1997, boaters put in at Pritchard Creek and floated around the Dog Creek Mudslide, a 16-mile journey instead of the usual 8.5 miles. Outfitters then had to bus clients back over Pine Creek and Teton passes to Jackson.
START plans to run its second and third commuter buses from Star Valley on this route Monday. The first bus from Etna has been canceled. Commuters should expect to arrive later. Call 307-733-4521 with questions.
Information on road closures and advisories can be found at www.wyoroad.info.
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