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Little Cottonwood Canyon Traffic Plan Public Comment Period Closes This Week

Photo of cars lined up on a snowy road.
Chelsea Naughton
Little Cottonwood Canyon sees millions of cars a year. To help mitigate traffic woes and vehicle emissions in the canyon, the Utah Department of Transportation is considering three plans that would change the way people reach recreation and resorts.

Plans are moving ahead to tackle traffic on one of Utah’s most crowded ski roads — LIttle Cottonwood Canyon, which takes drivers from the east side of Salt Lake County up to ski resorts like Alta and Snowbird. 

Last month, the state’s Department of Transportation unveiled three proposals — whittled down from 105 original possibilities — of what it said were the most promising options to reduce traffic and vehicle emissions, at the least expense to taxpayers and the environment.

The options are increasing bus service, adding a dedicated bus lane or building an eight-mile gondola. 

A public comment period on the project began last month and will end Friday, though UDOT project manager Josh Van Jura said they’ve already received an overwhelming response of more than 3,000 comments so far. 

“There's a lot of passionate people about the canyon, whether that be recreation or conservation” Van Jura said. “And that's absolutely what we're trying to do, is find a balance in all of these alternatives.”

Thom Carter, executive director of Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), said while all three options are good ones, he, along with representatives from three of the area’s ski resorts and Ski Utah, favor the gondola.

He said it would eliminate the need for additional busses or to expand the road, while also allowing for additional emissions reductions. 

“A gondola is electric powered, and so it's emissions load is offset or different [from cars],” Carter said. “It’s not going to be here in the valley or even on the mountain.” 

Van Jura said, however, that the actual impacts of each proposal won’t be known until additional environment studies are completed, which will happen after UDOT officials review the public comments. One of the options will be picked by Spring 2021, Van Jura said. 

According to UDOT’s plans, enhanced bus service is expected to be the cheapest upfront cost at $283 million. On average, a full trip would take riders 53 minutes and allow the roads to accommodate up to 3,257 people during peak hours. But it would also be the most expensive option to maintain, with ongoing operations and maintenance totalling $9 million.

The gondola could carry the most people of the three options, accommodating up to 3,299 during peak hours. And while it’s the second most expensive option to construct — $393 million — it would be the cheapest to maintain and wouldn’t require building additional snow sheds along the road. It would also take the longest of the three options — just over an hour — to reach the top.

Carter said whichever option eventually gets selected will help provide a better experience getting up the canyon. But he said people can also limit their impacts on the road and air right now by carpooling as much as possible.

“It's important to find new ways to get up the mountain,” he said. “But even without these programs, there are ways for people to do their part. We can do a lot for air quality by just taking three friends with us in the car when we go.”

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