The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has made its decision on how to fix Little Cottonwood Canyons’ traffic jams. KSL reports that UDOT released its Final Environmental Impact Statement today, saying that a canyon gondola is “the preferred alternative to improve transportation in the canyon.” The gondola is estimated to cost somewhere between $500-550 million. With it likely taking years to get the approvals and funding needed for the project, UDOT is considering the following plans for the short term:
“The proposed phasing would include increased and improved bus service as described in the Enhanced Bus Service Alternative (with no canyon roadway widening), tolling or restrictions on single occupancy vehicles, and the construction of mobility hubs. UDOT would also proceed with widening and other improvements to Wasatch Boulevard, constructing snow sheds, and implementing trailhead and roadside parking improvements, as funding allows.”
UDOT Project Manager Josh Van Jura said the following about the decision:
“We know how important this study is to so many canyon users, as the amount of public participation and comments we’ve received far surpasses any previous environmental study in UDOT’s history. With numerous studies over many years as the starting point for addressing the transportation challenges in Little Cottonwood Canyon, we relied on the (environmental impact study) process of in-depth technical analysis and environmental assessment, along with agency and public input, to identify Gondola B as the preferred alternative in the Final Economic Impact Statement.”
With this big decision, it should be noted that this is far from a done deal. Public comments can be submitted starting on September 2nd and will close on October 17th. The State of Utah’s legislature will then have to approve the plans. After that, lawsuits from environmental groups like Friends of Little Cottonwood Canyon are likely to follow.
From someone who frequented Little Cottonwood Canyon when I went to college out in Utah, I have mixed feelings about the gondola. It will certainly help alleviate traffic on busy days, which is clearly needed. Additionally, getting up on a gondola will be a lot less stressful than trying to drive up SR-210 when the roads are slippery.
On the other hand, we don’t know how much of this expensive gondola is going to fall on Utah taxpayers, and whether Alta and Snowbird will be covering any part of the costs. I also don’t like the concept of seeing Little Cottonwoods’ views taken away from giant gondola towers. There’s also a risk that climate change completely derails winters at Snowbird and Alta in the coming decades, rendering the gondola practically useless.
One thing is for sure: this divisive issue isn’t going away anytime soon.