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Sandy Journal

Life & Laughter - A high-wire act

Dec 09, 2022 03:40PM ● By Peri Kinder

From the people who brought you Syn-crete, nepotistic construction contracts and the ThrU Turn fiasco intersection, comes a mind-boggling project guaranteed to be unnecessary and over budget: the Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola.

The Utah Department of Transportation isn’t known for its rational, effective projects. It spent years studying the LCC traffic situation before making the wrong decision, but at least they didn’t go with the Little Cottonwood zeppelin.

Color me unimpressed with UDOT. Take 5400 South. Please. I travel this road every day and I know UDOT doesn’t understand east-west travel. Going from my home in Kearns to the I-15 interchange in Murray includes nearly 20 stoplights along that 7-mile stretch and I usually hit every. single. one. 

There was a legend that if you drove exactly 42.3 mph, under the light of a full moon, you could travel 5400 South without stopping at one red light. Not true. 

I blame my road rage on UDOT. 

So, let’s talk about the gondola. With UDOT approving the nearly $600 million project, it must have overwhelming support. Nope. Local mayors, residents, environmental groups, Bigfoot and county leaders don’t want this to happen. A majority of the tens of thousands of public comments are against the gondola. 

Just a hair short of sketchy, Snowbird quietly bought land that could (will) be used for the gondola station at the base of Little Cottonwood. When the time comes, Snowbird will sell or donate (ha-ha) that land to the state.

Hikers, fishermen, sightseers and climbers don’t want the gondola. They don’t want to ride the entire length of the gondola system if their destination isn’t a ski resort. I guess UDOT could add a base-jumping experience if you want to parachute out of the gondola halfway up the canyon. But it will probably have an extra fee.

Measuring 8 miles, it will be the longest gondola system in the world and includes nearly two dozen towers, averaging 185 feet high. That’s about 17 stories. UDOT said the towers will be placed up the canyon by helicopters, like they’ll gently rest on the forest floor where tree roots will wind around the base to hold them down, becoming part of the natural landscape. 

No. Each tower will have a huge concrete base, requiring boulders and trees to be demolished. Not only that, but construction could disrupt animal migration patterns, pollute the watershed and highlight UDOT’s decision-making legacy.

UDOT explored options like rideshare programs, electric buses and road tolls that are less invasive, especially when trying to solve a traffic problem that only happens a few days a year. But those alternatives aren’t expensive and ridiculous, so that was a “no” vote from UDOT.

When you factor inflation, the project’s cost will be about $72 gajillion, paid for with “mystery funding” which we all know usually means “taxpayer dollars” in some fashion. Even if you’ve never skied a day in your life, your tax dollars will probably help pay for a system designed by ski resorts, for ski resorts.

We’ve riddled this country with aging infrastructure. Obsolete railways, cables, steel and wiring lie unused and rusting. When the gondola becomes outdated, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be stuck with the awful towers standing forever in the sacred space of Little Cottonwood. 

UDOT’s track record is abysmal. I remember when it spent $700,000 to remove the stupid ThrU Turn on 5400 South. UDOT said the intersection wasn’t a mistake, just unnecessary. 

That could be UDOT’s tagline: Building unnecessary mistakes.