“I feel it’s a billion-dollar boondoggle. This cuts across party lines. I, as a Republican, I’m opposed to the gondola. I’m not the only one. I mean, this is a bipartisan coalition that’s out to not see this gondola move forward. It’s not in the public’s interest.”–Richard Snelgrove, Salt Lake County Councilman.
The opposition to the Little Cottonwood Gondola continues to grow. Fox 13 Utah reports that the Salt Lake County Council voted to formally denounce the planned gondola development via a resolution. With the vote only being 5-4 in favor of opposing the project, it proves how the issue is divisive and not clear-cut.
One of the issues discussed by the Council was the price. The original estimate put the gondola cost around $550 million, but inflation has obviously increased the price of everything. One contractor who was at the Salt Lake County Council meeting estimated that his prices have gone up by 30%, and would have the same effect on the gondola construction.
According to my rough math that was last practiced in high school, this percentage would put UDOT’s gondola estimate at around $713 million. This does not factor in other costs to improve the road, like the tolling aspect and tunnels to protect vehicles against avalanche paths. This is why people in the meeting thought that the whole project could cost more than $1 billion, which the tab going toward the taxpayers.
Jenny Wilson, who is the Salt Lake County Mayor, supported the following measures to combat the traffic in a press release from Tuesday:
- Electric, high-quality buses with mobility hubs;
- Parking management strategies such as ski parking reservations and enhanced smartphone app technology;
- Multi-passenger vehicle incentives such as micro-transit, carpooling, and rideshare programs; and
- Traction device requirements with expanded inspection hours and enforcement.
Aimee Winder Newton, who is a Salt Lake County Councilwoman, was one of the four members who opposed the resolution. She explained her reasoning in the meeting:
“This resolution is misleading, and I can’t support that right now. People have other great ideas that are cost-effective and that would be efficient for us — bring them forward.”
The feasibility of the bus lane alternative, which was one of two final proposals from Utah Department Of Transportation, seems less likely at this point. Utah Transit Authority, which runs the public bus service up Little Cottonwood canyons, announced they would be reducing their services this winter due to a lack of drivers. I was personally in favor of the expanded bus service and exclusive bus road option, but this move by UTA has me questioning the feasibility of this proposal. For me, I would prefer to see tolling and ski resort capacity limits before moving ahead on the expensive gondola.
The Salt Lake County Council wants them to try the cheap alternatives first, while UDOT wants to get work started on the gondola. Ultimately, the decision will come down to the Utah State Legislature. While many locals oppose the gondola, the state legislature has a track record of not listening to public opinion.
On the other hand, the people of Utah prefer small government, and the project will fall on taxpayers. This will likely draw opposition from members of the left and right, as they likely will want to use the funds for more urgent matters, like saving The Great Salt Lake. Then there’s the lawsuit portion that will also likely occur from environmental organizations. In short, the battle for the future of Little Cottonwood is far from over.