Utah officials weigh ideas to ease congestion on canyon road

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Department of Transportation will begin assessing a wide array of ideas to ease traffic on a canyon road that leads up to some of the state’s most popular and well-known ski resorts, including gondolas, a rail line, buses, and wider roads and more parking lots.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the agency released an overview of the plan Monday that marks the latest step in a study about congestion in the Little Cottonwood Canyon that began in 2017 after lawmakers passed legislation to formally address the issue.

The narrow canyon, home to renowned ski resorts Alta and Snowbird, has only one road that is two lanes most of the way. About 2.1 million people visit the canyon each year, with most coming during winter.

After big snowstorms, cars full of skiers and snowboarders anxious to get in a “powder day” lead to bumper-to-bumper traffic in spots up a road that is about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the mount of the canyon to Alta.

The legislature has allocated $66 million for improvements.

The high avalanche danger in the canyon complicates the congestion because there’s frequent avalanche control work that needs to be done.

One idea is to build sheds over several stretches of the highway that are slide paths when snow comes onto the road when officials purposely triggers avalanches in preventative work. That would allow cars to travel underneath the sheds.

The options that would focus on facilitating passage for more cars are already triggering concerns.

“They are not looking at how we can deliver people to the base of Little and Big Cottonwood canyons without their vehicles,” said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons. “The mobility issues are all caused by the number of cars, and they are not trying to figure out how to have not so many cars. They are looking at how to accommodate those cars.”

John Thomas, the lead planner on the project for the Utah said they have an open mind about possible solutions.

“We are not promoting more private vehicles. We are trying to find ways to get more people up there in fewer vehicles,” Thomas said. “I’ve said it 100 times before and I’ll keep saying it because it represents a shift in our department. There’s a recognition that times have changed. Our attitudes are directly aligned with improving quality of life through mobility.”


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