Photo Credit: Wasatch Backcountry Alliance (@wasatchbackcountryalliance)
Summary: The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is poised to tear up iconic Little Cottonwood Canyon and spend hundreds of millions of dollars constructing a gondola to ferry visitors to Snowbird and Alta. We’re working with the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance to push back against the proposed gondola and advocate for common-sense solutions that will meaningfully reduce traffic and improve public land access for all visitors to Little Cottonwood year-round, and we need you to comment on UDOT’s plans before Oct 17, 2022.
Management of the Central Wasatch and specifically traffic in the canyons is not new; the infamous “red snake” has been an issue for many years and the subject of many plans.
In 2013 the many diverse stakeholders in the Wasatch finally came together as one body in a process called “Mountain Accord” to address Wilderness boundaries, ski resort expansion plans, managing crowds, development, and towns in the canyons, and, of course, transportation. A comprehensive “accord” was signed in 2015 and a new entity called the Central Wasatch Commission (CWC) was created to execute the accord and create a bill for Congress to end the myriad of small battles being fought, but overarching transportation “solutions” remained elusive due to their expense and complexity.
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) was an integral part of the Mountain Accord and CWC. In 2018, Utah legislature approved a bill for UDOT to spend $68M to explore traffic solutions (such as tolling) for Little Cottonwood Canyon. Not long afterwards, UDOT pulled out of the CWC and quietly began to ignore the state’s mandate to explore potential traffic-alleviating tolling for the canyon.
Once untethered from the CWC, UDOT began drafting their own plan to determine a transportation solution for managing traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and from the beginning many have felt that their favored solution was a gondola. We have been working with Wasatch Backcountry Alliance throughout this process to advocate that UDOT first adequately fund programs and resources that leverage existing infrastructure – like working with the Utah Transit Authority, which runs buses up the canyons during the winter season – to address the traffic and congestion problems before spending hundreds of millions of dollars to construct unproven solutions like a gondola or widening the road.
We have also repeatedly advocated for UDOT and the Forest Service to define and develop a plan to manage the capacity of Little Cottonwood. The alternatives UDOT is considering in its transportation plan could add up to 1,000 more people to the canyon every hour during ski season without a clearly defined program to limit the number of cars, thereby adding up to thousands of additional people every day.
A Gondola? Seriously?!
In August, UDOT released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its Little Cottonwood Canyon transportation plan, identifying construction of a gondola as its preferred alternative. The gondola, which would cost Utah taxpayers at least $550 million and which 80% of Utahans oppose, would do little beyond providing economic benefit for the ski resorts at the top of the canyon. Our friends at Wasatch Backcountry Alliance have an excellent rundown on what the gondola will – and will not – achieve on their blog, here and here.
To summarize, UDOT’s proposed gondola would provide no service to trailheads and no summertime service. It will be visible from nearly every backcountry trail in Little Cottonwood and forever tarnish the viewsheds from the top of Grizzly Gulch as well as from the Salt Lake Valley.
The gondola would also forever change Little Cottonwood’s iconic climbing areas, destroying individual boulders and ruining entire crags. And, while the gondola isn’t anticipated to actually reduce the number of cars driving up Little Cottonwood, it is expected to increase resort skier visits by 20%. While more people may mean more profit for the ski areas, this growth could significantly degrade the Little Cottonwood experience for everyone, including resort guests. Understanding and defining Little Cottonwood’s capacity should be a foundational element of any transportation plan for the canyon.
Take Action Today!
We encourage everyone who is concerned about access in Little Cottonwood Canyon to speak up and share your voice by telling UDOT that a gondola is the wrong answer, and that we should use solutions that already exist to solve the canyon’s traffic problems.
UDOT is only accepting public comments via their website here. In your letter, we encourage you to make the following points:
- UDOT should conduct a capacity/visitor management study to better understand how many visitors LCC can support before completing the EIS.
- The gondola won’t solve Little Cottonwood Canyon’s traffic problems, but we already have solutions that are proven to work, including enhanced buses, tolling, parking reservations and enforcement of traction laws.
- Constructing more than 20 towers reaching 200 feet tall and stretching eight miles through the heart of Little Cottonwood would destroy the canyon’s natural beauty.
- Committing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to the world’s longest gondola without a commensurate effort to reduce auto traffic in the canyon nor addressing spring/summer/fall traffic amounts to a government-paid lift for two ski resorts.
You have until October 17 to submit comments to UDOT. Please click the button below to send a letter to UDOT today!