LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah – The Utah Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on three draft proposals aimed at providing more transit options, alleviating traffic and increasing safety in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
When the state’s claim to fame is ‘The Greatest Snow on Earth,’ it’s no wonder people flock to the mountains.
“It’s one of the things Utah’s known for,” said John Gleason with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
But, with all of that popularity, comes the ever-dreaded ski traffic.
“Utah’s not the best-kept secret anymore, there are more and more people that are discovering us and more and more residents that are coming up to the canyons,” Gleason continued. “Far too many times this winter we’ve seen just that long line of cars waiting to get up there.”
It’s an issue that quite literally cannot go unnoticed.
But now, UDOT has identified three alternative plans to improve transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC). The draft alternatives were developed as part of the LCC Environmental Impact Statement – an initiative that was created in 2018 by UDOT in partnership with USDA Forest Service and Utah Transit Authority.
“We want to cut down on the traffic in the canyons, but at the same time give more people the opportunity to enjoy the canyon,” Gleason said.
In 2019, UDOT was presented a list of 105 preliminary concepts, which were proposed by stakeholders during a public scoping period, to address transportation needs in LCC.
The plans were evaluated based on their ability to improve transportation, feasibility and environmental impact – ultimately leading to three plans.
“Each of these three alternatives would transport about a thousand people per-hour up the canyon to enjoy the resorts,” said Gleason.
The first plan includes an enhanced bus system; 24-buses would be used to transport visitors from a parking hub at the mouth of the canyon, directly to the Alta and Snowbird ski resorts 6-times per hour.
UDOT estimates this plan would require $283-million in capital costs, plus an additional $9-million in operating and maintenance costs. Using this method, the estimated per-person travel time is 46-minutes.
“If you could imagine people loading onto a bus every 5-minutes, that would alleviate a lot of congestion right there,” said Gleason.
The second proposed plan takes the buses a step further. UDOT would pave the shoulder of the road to create a specialty lane for bus travel only, allowing the fleet to bypass any traffic.
“That’s the key right there, providing those incentives, not having just those single drivers go up there on their own,” said Gleason. “There are so many different options that we’re hoping to provide here and we want them to take us up on it.”
UDOT estimates this plan would require $470-million in capital costs, plus an additional $6.2-million in operating and maintenance costs. Using this method, the estimated per-person travel time is 37-minutes.
The final proposed plan includes a massive gondola featuring 30, 35-person cabins which would arrive every 2-minutes.
“It could potentially be the longest gondola in the world at just over 8-miles, it’s an exciting alternative,” said Gleason.
UDOT said the gondola alternative would include the construction of a new base station at the mouth of LCC and offer services to the top of the canyon. It would also include buses to transport people from a mobility hub at the gravel pit, providing access to the base station – no parking would be allowed at the base station.
UDOT estimates this plan would require $393-million in capital costs, plus an additional $4.5-million in operating and maintenance costs. Using this method, the estimated per-person travel time is 46-minutes.
In addition to the three main plans, UDOT said other elements have been developed to combine with each alternative.
“These include snow sheds (concrete structures built over the highway to keep it clear of snow in case of avalanches); mobility hubs (larger-capacity park-and-ride lots with transit service); widening and other improvements to Wasatch Boulevard; addressing trailhead parking and eliminating some roadside parking,” UDOT announced in a press release.
“These proposed alternatives have the potential to dramatically change transportation within the canyon and include some concepts that have never been done before in the state,” it continued.
While none of the plans are set in stone, UDOT believes these three are worth looking into as the state looks towards the future.
“It really speaks to the growth that we’re seeing here in the state and what an international player Utah is becoming and more and more people want to experience what we have to offer,” said Gleason.
UDOT is relying on public comment to help decide which plan would best serve the area. There is a 35-day public comment portion, which will be open from June 8 to July 10, it can be found HERE.
Along with the public comment period, UDOT plans to host virtual public meetings to review the draft alternatives and answer questions.
Following public review of the draft plans, UDOT will identify a preferred alternative – they hope to have a decision made by the end of 2021.