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MDT offers apology after near-24-hour shutdown of Bozeman Pass

"You know, I've been with the Sheriff's Office for 16 years and I can’t remember a time where I-90 was closed that long,” says Search and Rescue Commander Matt Boxmeyer.
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Posted at 6:35 PM, May 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-10 15:05:16-04

BOZEMAN — On Thursday, May 9, traffic is flowing over Bozeman Pass on I-90, but the day prior, cars were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for nearly 24 hours.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” I asked Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue Commander Matt Boxmeyer.

“I have not," he told me. "You know, I've been with the Sheriff's Office for 16 years and I can’t remember a time where I-90 was closed that long.”

Almost 24 hours. That's how long I-90 was blocked, from 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night to around 10 p.m. Wednesday night.

“We started getting phone calls mid-day about people having issues. Running out of water, they didn't have food. And then other vehicle issues,” says Boxmeyer.

Traffic began piling up after two semis jackknifed on Bozeman Pass, blocking the interstate. Boxmeyer tells me Search and Rescue was asked to step in around 12 p.m. on Wednesday, after morning commuters piled up, causing the situation to worsen.

Because law enforcement wasn’t able to get to most vehicles, Search and Rescue used ATVs to assist trapped motorists, offering hundreds of people food, water, and gasoline.

“Some of those people said they had been stuck up there for about 15 hours,” says Boxmeyer.

He told me Search and Rescue officers even had to evacuate multiple mothers with infant children, abandoning their cars to later be towed.

Many people have shared their frustration with the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), wondering why the highway was not closed prior to the storm or sooner after the blockage.

Ted Jones, Bozeman Division Maintenance Chief for MDT, says they could have done a better job.

“It was a quick, rapid event that developed for us. We acknowledge that we can make improvements there and apologize for the inconvenience that it did have to the public,” he says.

Jones tells me this storm was out of the ordinary due to how much heavy, wet snow fell in such little time.

“It was difficult to keep up with, for a storm to that magnitude,” says Jones.

Because there were so many semis that got stuck going over Bozeman Pass, snowplows were unable to clear the road—one even sliding off the side of I-90.

“By around 2 a.m., we had several of our snowplows that were trapped in the queue there and could not get out to help continue maintaining the road, and traffic continued to back up,” says Jones.

By Wednesday night, the interstate was back open in both directions. And although the Sheriff's Office is calling this a historic blockage of Bozeman Pass, Search and Rescue has this advice:

“Make sure you have water, food, and blankets, anything to stay warm should your vehicle run out of fuel,” says Boxmeyer.