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New Effort Targets Cottonwood Canyons Traffic

Mountain Accord
Mountain Accord is looking for ways to make using the ski bus more attractive so traffic jams aren't the norm in the Cottonwood Canyons.

The collaborative behind a new plan for the central Wasatch is getting ready to untangle the Cottonwood canyons’ traffic jams. They’re looking at buses as the quickest solution for now.

After the last big snowstorm, Pennsylvanian Tanner Dodds started early up Little Cottonwood Canyon to get in a few powder runs ahead of the crowds. 

“It was still completely packed,” says Dodds, who relies on the bus to get up the canyon on busy days. “It was like the roads were just like a nonstop traffic jam the whole way back into town. I wound up turning around and not even skiing at all. So, it was kind of a bummer, but I mean it’s not worth it if it’s that packed.”

Some people say “Carmageddon” like this is ruining the mountain experience. For the drivers whose cars lined the narrow mountain roads and got tickets for parking illegally. And for the people headed to a talk about the Mountain Accord planning effort got stuck in traffic so long that the program was cancelled.

Turns out, Mountain Accord is kicking off a new public discussion on moving people in and out of the canyons.

“Everybody agrees that we’ve got to get more people on transit,” says Laynee Jones, the planning group’s program director.

“Now we’ve got to figure out how to make that so attractive that it gets you out of your car. And we’ve got to figure out how to use that limited road space to incentivize transit. We’ve got to figure out where to park people in the valley. And we’ve got to figure out how to pay for it. So we do have some challenges.” 

Jones says the collaboration of ski resorts, government agencies, advocacy groups, businesses and the public heard a clear message during the first phase -- that they want the natural environment of the Wasatch protected.

“Today, we may look at these transportation challenges and say, ‘They’re too big. It’s not possible.’ But, I’m excited to apply all of that collaboration that we did on the first phase to this transportation problem.”

Originally, tunnels, trains and ski lifts were discussed as possible solutions. But Jones says the focus now is on what can be done by next winter, and that means buses until planners develop longer-term solutions .

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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