Finally readyOct 21, 2012 By Steven R. Peck
The Togwotee Pass road rebuild is done
Taped to a wall in the newspaper office is a small chart in the form of a timeline. In blocks and lines, some numbers and a few words is the projected work schedule and completion date of the Togwotee Pass highway reconstruction.
Created and distributed in 2004, its forecast was discouraging on paper: Seven to eight years of work, miles of torn-up road, single-lane driving, slowed-down traffic and frequent, long delays for motorists heading west from Fremont County to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Jackson and the adjacent areas.
It's a lightly populated area, but those who did live in and around the construction zone were worried. Who, they wondered, would drive willingly through a perpetual road construction site on the way to the state's most popular tourist destinations when there were alternate routes? What would the decreased traffic mean for Dubois, for the dude ranches, the snowmobile renters, the outfitters, the motels, campgrounds, RV parks, restaurants and gas stations? How far would the impact reach? Would travelers who planned driving routes through Fremont County look elsewhere? Would they fly into Riverton Regional Airport anymore? Would the feared business downturn affect not just Dubois, but Riverton, Lander, NOLS, Central Wyoming College and other key segments of the local economy?
These concerns were not unfounded. What was being proposed was significant and unprecedented. Not since the 1950s had any extensive work on the route been done. No one in modern times had ever experienced such disruption before, so no one could be sure what the impact would be.
To their great credit, the concerned parties opted not to sit still and wring their hands as the work began. They created what in many ways was an unprecedented support structure for those along the route.
If you drove the "Togwotee Trail," as the route was nicknamed officially during the rebuild, then you saw the costumed cowboy who greeted motorists during stoppages. You sipped the cold drinks and crunched the cookies that were handed out. You listened to the entertaining and informative CD that was distributed.
You probably paid attention to the extensive advance briefings of what the conditions along the route would be on a given day and planned accordingly.
Perhaps you read the many dozens of short news briefs we published in our newspaper, often accompanied by photographs of the work in progress.
If you had the same chart on the wall that we did, then you might have checked off the sections of work as they were wrapped up: Brooks Lake, Buffalo Fork, Fourmile Meadows, Togwotee Pass and Rosie's Ridge.
And on Tuesday, you might even have traveled west of Dubois, where traffic was stopped one last time -- for a ribbon-cutting.
The job is now done. The new roadway has been bettered -- vastly -- from its previous condition. It has been designed, engineered and finished with care and about as much creativity as could be achieved considering it's a road for cars.
It's quite a thing to see, and to drive. And it's quite a thing to have accomplished. And now, it's a good bet that the Togwotee rebuild will be seen as a model to be emulated across the state as other big roadwork challenges are confronted. Road builders nationwide ought to take notice as well.
Now it is time to put the difficulties in the past and set about making the new route work for us. Let's celebrate it, promote the heck out of it, and reintroduce travelers to our magnificent part of America, a spectacular section of which can be viewed along the new and immensely improved Togwotee Trail.