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Climbers help delay UDOT decision on Little Cottonwood Canyon traffic plan

A photo of cars parked on the side of the road at Albion Basin.
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Transportation officials have been working on a plan for managing traffic in Little Cottonwood since 2018.

After receiving a flood of public comments, the Utah Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it is once again delaying a final decision on its traffic plan for Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Josh Van Jura, the project’s manager, said the agency received more feedback on the plan than any other project in its history. More than 20,000 people have weighed in since 2018, many of whom submitted their comments after the release of UDOT’s two “preferred alternatives” last June.

UDOT selected two options they said best meet the project’s goals of shorter and more consistent travel times: a gondola from La Caille restaurant to the Alta and Snowbird ski resorts or road expansion for additional bus service. Both are estimated to exceed $500 million in construction costs alone.

Van Jura said, however, the federal environmental review process requires that each of the six previously vetted alternatives remain on the table, including a cog rail or doing nothing.

“I would say they all have equal opportunity to be picked,” he said. “Because they all made it through the [initial] screening, so they were dubbed ‘reasonable alternatives’ by the process.”

Van Jura said one of the main comments that made officials delay the plan was how the various options would impact climbing areas. Climbers argued UDOT’s analysis should consider how climbing boulders would be affected between the Alpenbock Loop Trail and Grit Mill Trailhead near the base of the canyon, which was previously not addressed.

A decision on the plan was supposed to come by the end of ski season this year. Now, UDOT said it will issue its final environmental impact statement this summer, give the public one more chance to review all the details and make a final decision next winter.

“So many people are passionate about this canyon,” Van Jura said. “The reason I'm so thankful that so many people have weighed in on the project is it's allowed us to better understand the many and varied uses of the canyon so we can balance all of these points of view.”

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

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