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UDOT urging drivers to be prepared in Cottonwood Canyons, regardless if traction law in effect

Posted at 9:23 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 00:15:38-05

COTTONWOOD CANYONS, Utah — On Monday afternoon, thousands of vehicles were trying to exit Little Cottonwood Canyon as snow started to fall in the middle portion of the roadway. Some drivers told Fox 13 it took them over three hours to get from Alta to the base of the canyon.

Multiple accounts from those on the road said that the cars involved with the numerous slide-offs causing delays, were not in compliance with the traction law put into effect around 4 p.m.

“I’m just a little frustrated because I see a lot of vehicles in the canyon that are slowing things down for others that are compliant with traction laws or maybe the right type of vehicle,” said David Amirault, who has spent years working and skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon. “I’d like to see enforcement and penalization escalated.”

Enforcement is commonly done by Utah Department of Transportation and Unified Police at the base of the canyon. However, if a car already traveled up the canyon in the early part of the day before the traction law went into effect, it’s on the driver to wait it out until the traction law is lifted.

Unified Police told Fox 13 that they’ve issued several citations during the winter season and fines for those not in compliance with the traction law can expect fines upwards of $700.

Drivers sitting in traffic for 3+ hours on Monday night were not only anxious, but uncomfortable sitting in marked avalanche areas where ‘no parking is permitted' from November 1 to May 15.

“Personally, I feel that the traction law is not well enforced, they turn on the flashing lights too late during snowstorms and drivers do not take it upon themselves to be prepared for winter weather in the mountains,” skier MacLean Wright told Fox13 recounting the traffic congestion on Monday. “Often I see smaller cars that presumably don’t have four-wheel-drive or snow tires driving around the canyon without chains on their car when the traction law is in place. Having a sign at the bottom of the canyon is not enough, as we can tell by the numerous times there are major accidents in the canyons.”

UDOT continues to urge drivers to be prepared for changing conditions. The traction law is put into effect strictly when the road is being impacted by winter weather, not as a warning to what might happen later in the day.

“When you go up the canyon, you should be prepared to drive in any kind of element that there is,” said UDOT’s Cottonwood Canyons Roadway Operations Manager Jake Brown. “Understand that there is going to be a wait coming down the canyon whether it’s dry roads or you have a snowstorm.”

Brown noted that nearly four thousand people were in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Monday, most of them trying to come down the canyon that is single-lane travel in both directions most of the roadway. Brown says that four plows were working in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon on Monday as snow started to move in.

“The plows can only keep up with about an in hour, everything after that is on their driver and their vehicle,” said Brown, who notes that plows often get stuck in traffic as well and don’t have a magic button to maneuver through congestion.

Not only are drivers recommended to be prepared for whatever elements they may encounter in the mountains, but it’s also about knowing your vehicle and knowing how to drive in winter weather.

“You get one person that gets scared, hasn’t given in that kind of environment, has the wrong tires, that person could really mess up the commute for the rest of the people going down the canyon,” said Brown.