It’s become something of a rite of spring and fall: A driver from out of state blindly follows directions from their GPS device and attempts to cross the closed Beartooth Highway, with …
It’s become something of a rite of spring and fall: A driver from out of state blindly follows directions from their GPS device and attempts to cross the closed Beartooth Highway, with predictably disastrous results.
First responders are called in to rescue the hapless travelers from snowy conditions, locals shake their heads at the visitors’ foolishness and everyone goes on their way … until the next time.
We say, enough already. While the impassibility of the high-elevation highway should be self-evident, it’s obvious that something more needs to be done to make it clearer to the traveling public when the highway is closed.
Last month, the driver of a semi-truck and his passenger were the most recent to naively try navigating the mountainous highway. The man’s GPS unit apparently suggested that U.S. Highway 212 would be a good way to reach Red Lodge, Montana, and points beyond.
Of course, it wasn’t. The Beartooths are no place for a long tractor trailer — and particularly not in the current snowy conditions; the road is closed about 17 miles east of its intersection with Wyo. Highway 296.
This man and his rig made it about 5 miles east of the intersection before getting stuck in snow on a straightaway.
Fortunately, he was able to call for help. Even more fortunately, personnel from the Wyoming Highway Patrol, Park County Search and Rescue and the National Park Service in Yellowstone were able to reach the two travelers and get them to safety.
It’s an all too familiar story: This was at least the third time that someone has tried taking the Beartooth Highway this fall, the Wyoming Highway Patrol says — and those are just the latest incidents.
Disaster was narrowly averted in 2013, when a couple from Wisconsin followed their GPS directions up U.S. 212 and got stuck in snow for six days. Fortunately, they, too, were rescued.
But it is only a matter of time before one of these mishaps ends in death.
In the wake of the trucker’s Nov. 27 misadventure on the Beartooth Highway, the Wyoming Highway Patrol asked the National Park Service to install better signage and a gate or barrels at the highway’s junction with Wyo. 296 “for the safety of motorists.” The patrol says it asked the Park Service to put up better signs earlier this year, too.
We hope the Park Service can install more barriers and signs to make it crystal clear when the route has been closed for the season. However, if the agency can’t come up with the funding or manpower, we hope the Wyoming Department of Transportation or maybe even the Park County government will lend a hand.
Maintenance of the Beartooth Highway is something of a political football, with no one wanting to claim responsibility for the route and its astronomically high construction costs.
This is different, though: Not only would these fixes be relatively inexpensive, they could save a life.
We’d also suggest it’s well past time for the makers of navigation applications to stop sending people into harm’s way.
On Monday, MapQuest and Microsoft’s Bing Maps were still suggesting to travelers that they could make it from Red Lodge to Cooke City in about an hour and 40 minutes via the Beartooth Highway. Only by reading the fine print would a person see the route is subject to a seasonal closure. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to sync up their databases with WYDOT closure data.
(To their credit, Google Maps and Apple Maps warned that the route was closed, not even recommending the path.)
Of course, the ultimate responsibility lies with travelers. It’s not the government’s fault or even navigational systems’ fault that drivers keep missing warning signs and trying to pass through impassable roads. Travelers should know where they’re going and be aware enough to not try driving through a snowed-in mountain pass in winter.
However, there’s often a wide gap between what people should do and what they actually do — which is why more signs and gates should be added as soon as possible.