Sep 1, 2022 - News

Utah transportation officials push for Little Cottonwood gondola

A tower to suspend a ski gondola soars above mountain cliffs.
A rendering of a gondola towner in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Image: Utah Department of Transportation.

State transportation officials are recommending a controversial, $550-million gondola to relieve traffic congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

  • But first, they want to try adding buses.

What's happening: The Utah Department of Transportation released its analysis Wednesday of various traffic-reducing options, with the gondola as its first choice.

  • The report also reviewed plans to build a new bus lane or a train up the north side of the canyon.

The other side: Local officials and conservation groups say the gondola will be an eyesore and amounts to a taxpayer subsidy for lucrative ski resorts.

  • They also raised concerns about how construction in the watershed would impact drinking water.

Details: The gondola would run from North Cottonwood Canyon Road, near the LaCaille restaurant, to Snowbird and Alta.

  • The parking structure at the base would house 2,500 cars.
  • It would still take close to an hour to get up the canyon, UDOT projected.

Yes, but: There is no funding yet, so UDOT is recommending an "enhanced" ski bus service first, with buses leaving every five minutes during peak traffic, from the gravel pit on Wasatch Boulevard and 9400 S. Highland Dr.

  • That would roughly triple the frequency of buses, which previously run at 15-minute intervals.

Between the lines: A toll of $25-$30 during peak traffic hours would be needed to persuade at least 30% of drivers to switch to public transit, Josh Van Jura, the state's manager over the Little Cottonwood traffic plan, said in an informational video.

  • Tolls were popular among the more than 13,000 people who commented during the study.
  • Both Big and Little Cottonwood canyons would probably have to be tolled so Big Cottonwood isn't overrun.

By the numbers: Traffic in Little Cottonwood frequently exceeds 10,000 cars per day, so the gondola would only accommodate about a quarter of that traffic — and the share will shrink as traffic gets heavier.

  • Just adding extra buses — the cheapest option — will cost $355 million, UDOT estimated, plus $14 million to operate and maintain them.
  • Adding a lane for extra buses produced the fastest travel time of all the options UDOT studied — but local leaders have opposed that, too.

What's next: UDOT is accepting public comment from Sept. 2-Oct. 17 and expects to make a final decision this winter.

What they're saying: "Let's invest in electric buses and regional transit hubs throughout the valley. These initiatives can make a difference. So file your comment, carpool and take the bus this winter, and let's prevent the gondola," Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson tweeted Wednesday.

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