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Better Bus Service Is Coming To Cottonwood Ski Resorts This Year. But Will It Reduce Traffic?

Photo of snow falling on road up Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Chelsea Naughton
A snowstorm on Monday led to several accidents and delays on Little Cottonwood Canyon Road.

The Utah Transit Authority and the Central Wasatch Commission are continuing the effort to reduce winter congestion in Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. On Monday, they announced public transportation improvements they say could help get drivers out of their cars and into buses.

The goal is to reduce congestion. And after last year’s explosive ski season, they’re betting it will work. 

“If we make it easier or more appealing for one person to ride the bus instead of get in their car, that’s a huge win,” said Lindsey Nielsen, communications director for the Central Wasatch Commission. 

The improvements include 26% more trips to Snowbird and Alta through bus Route 953, faster service to Solitude and Brighton on Routes 972 & 994, and more seat space for riders. One-way fares will cost $4.50 each, though season passes to a number of resorts also include free bus rides.

While they don’t have projections for each route, UTA officials expect a more than 25% increase in ridership this season on the most popular Route 953, according to spokesman Carl Arky.

But for Mike Manville, associate professor of urban planning at UCLA, while improved public transportation is a positive step, it’s not necessarily going to solve the problem. At its best, public transportation offers people the chance to avoid the headache of driving in traffic, he said, but it has never been demonstrated to actually reduce congestion.

“If a bus doesn’t have its own lane, it is going to both suffer from and cause congestion,” said Manville. 

Instead, the only thing he’s seen force people out of their cars is charging them to drive. 

“The textbook solution is a toll on the road based on the level of demand for it,” he said. “That's probably a heavy lift for a ski resort to do, but that's the thing that would be effective.”

Neilsen said a potential toll on both canyon roads is a possibility in the future, along with potential rail or aerial transit systems. 

Partially increased service will begin Friday, Nov. 29, with full service scheduled for Sunday, Dec.1.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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