Gondola receives UDOT approvalOct 01, 2022 06:12PM ● By Cassie Goff
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) announced their preference for a gondola as a viable alternative solution to canyon traffic congestion within Little Cottonwood Canyon. They published their Final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on Aug. 31 as a continuation of the EIS that began in 2018.
“Based on the analysis of the environmental impacts and considering public input, UDOT has identified Gondola B as the preferred alternative for providing the best overall reliability and mobility while improving safety,” said UDOT’s Project Manager Josh Van Jura.
Gondola B would include a base station with 2,500 parking spaces near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Each gondola cabin would hold up to 35 people and depart every two minutes. (Gondola A was a suggested solution but was ultimately decided against because of too many transfers and stops increasing travel time in the canyon.)
Even though Gondola B is the preferred alternative, it may take years to construct as UDOT will need to secure federal, state or private funding for full implementation. This preferred alternative is estimated to cost $550 million. Out of that total cost, $159 million will go toward tolling infrastructure, transit and trailhead parking, snowsheds, and widening Wasatch Boulevard. The winter operations maintenance cost will be $4 million per year. If summer access were to be included, it would be an additional $3 million per year.
Within the final EIS document, Gondola B is described as being able to operate independently of the roadway. This would help travelers avoid traffic delays up the roadway caused by adverse weather, vehicle crashes, slide-offs, and slow moving traffic.
UDOT does recognize that implementing a gondola within Little Cottonwood Canyon will be a visual change, but it provides continued access for the watershed, air quality, noise reduction and wildlife.
Many elected officials and community organizations have spoken out against UDOT’s decision.
“We believe UDOT’s proposed solutions will poorly affect tourism, as the construction will cause many years delay in mitigating traffic, an issue that demands an immediate solution. The construction period will increase traffic for years and the canyon’s reputation as a ‘red snake’ will worsen and drive away customers,” wrote Students for the Wasatch, a group of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Utah, in their petition.
“An agency that builds highways should not be the decision maker on safe mobility for all users,” said Cottonwood Heights City Councilmember Ellen Birrell. “Fracturing the foothill gateway to Big and Little Cottonwood canyons with another huge, high-speed arterial when commuters currently have no viable transit alternatives is opposed by the citizenry. Thoughtful and financially practical alternatives that move commuters on existing arterials would lessen injuries, fatalities, and air pollution.”
“This constitutes the greatest threat to climbing in the Wasatch region in decades,” wrote the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance after hearing of the decision. “UDOT’s proposal threatens iconic roadside bouldering resources and will impact the overall historic climbing experience in the Little Cottonwood Canyon.”
“I continue to believe a gondola is not the right direction for our canyon,” wrote State Representative for Utah House District 32 Suzanna Harrison on social media. “Taxpayer-funded transportation projects should benefit all residents, not just the ski resorts.”
“A gondola system will scar Little Cottonwood Canyon forever. It will be pervasive and permanent,” wrote Friends of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Instead of sending all their resources to Gondola B, UDOT plans to phase in various transportation alternatives. UDOT would like to enhance bus service up the canyon, impose tolling restrictions on single occupancy vehicles, and construct mobility hubs in the meantime. In addition, UDOT plans to move forward with the construction of snow sheds, making improvements to trailhead and roadside parking, and the widening of Wasatch Boulevard.
“During the public comment period, many people suggested that UDOT start with increased bussing, more parking, and tolling before moving to alternatives that have a larger footprint and larger environmental impacts,” Van Jura said. “These improvements will protect the watershed, improve air quality, and increase the quality of life for residents and canyon users by reducing traffic congestion as private vehicles shift to transit.”
A 45-day public comment period addressing the Final EIS alternative began on Sept. 2 and will run through Oct. 17. Paper copies of the Final EIS are available at various locations including UDOT’s Central Office (4501 S. 2700 West, Taylorsville), Viridian West Jordan Library (8030 S. 1825 West, West Jordan), Anderson-Foothill Library (1135 S. 2100 East, Salt Lake City), Whitmore Library (2197 Fort Union Blvd., Cottonwood Heights) and Cottonwood Heights City Hall (2277 Bengal Blvd.).
UDOT will accept public comments through the project website (www.littlecottownwoodeis.udot.utah.gov/), emails ([email protected]), voice mails, text messages (801-200-3465), and written letters (2825 E. Cottonwood Parkway, Suite 250, Cottonwood Heights, UT, 84121) until Oct. 17. All public comments will be used to help them decide on the final alternative for implementation. The Record of Decision (ROD) is scheduled to be announced during the winter of 2022/23.
To learn more about the process of UDOT’s LCC EIS, check out the Cottonwood Heights Journal’s previous coverage: