SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – As millions of visitors travel through Little Cottonwood Canyon, traffic in the area has become a problem that the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is aiming to address.
After proposing two options in helping alleviate the problem, UDOT has singled out building a gondola as the preferred alternative in a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In the statement released on Aug. 31, UDOT says the Gondola B alternative would “best meet the project purpose and need and provides the highest travel reliability for the public.”
Included in the proposed Gondola alternative, Little Cottonwood Canyon would see an increased and improved bus service, as well as tolling or restrictions on single occupancy vehicles and the construction of mobility hubs. Through phased efforts, UDOT would also proceed to widen and improve Wasatch Boulevard by implementing trailhead and roadside parking improvements as well as constructing snow sheds.
According to the findings from the Final Environmental Impact Statement, these improvements would improve air quality, protect the watershed, and increase the quality of life for residents and canyon users as traffic congestion lightens and visitors switch to public transit. The other proposed option would see UDOT widen the road to four lanes with enhanced bus services.
“We know how important this study is to so many canyon users, as the amount of public participation and comments we’ve received far surpasses any previous environmental study in UTDOT’s history,” said UDOT Project Manager Josh Van Jura. “With numerous studies over many years as the starting point for addressing the transportation challenges in Little Cottonwood Canyon, we relied on the EIS process of in-depth technical analysis and environmental assessment, along with agency and public input, to identify Gondola B as the preferred alternative in the Final EIS.”
The proposed Gondola B alternative would see a base station built at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon with 2,500 parking spaces. Each gondola cabin would hold up to 35 travelers and arrive every two minutes. The gondola would be able to operate independently of S.R. 210, avoiding any delays due to weather, crashes, slide offs, or traffic. In the statement, UDOT says that while this alternative has the highest visual impact – which was a concern expressed by some who regularly climb and ski in the canyon – it offers the lowest impact to the watershed, local wildlife, and climbing boulders.
UDOT estimates the total cost of the Gondola B Alternative is $550 million and would take two to three years to complete. The price tag would include tolling infrastructure, transit parking, show sheds, trailhead parking, and the widening of Wasatch Boulevard, which are all common in the other proposed alternatives. Maintenance and winter operations are reported to cost $4 million per year. This number would increase by $3 million should a summer service be implemented.
“Currently, UDOT does not have funding to implement the proposed preferred alternative,” said Van Jura. “We are proposing the phased implementation plan to alleviate mobility, reliability, and safety concerns that exist today while addressing the long-term transportation need in the canyon.”
Over the next 45 days, UDOT is welcoming public review and comments that relate to the preferred alternative as well as the information from the Final EIS. Comments can be submitted until October 17 through the project website, email, written letters, voicemail, and text message.
After October 17, UDOT will consider all comments and decide on which alternatives and sub-alternatives are selected in the Record of Decision – the final step in the EIS process.