ENVIRONMENT

UDOT chooses gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon

Jul 12, 2023, 9:41 AM | Updated: Dec 1, 2023, 3:00 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Transportation says that Gondola Alternative B is the best choice to improve traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

In releasing its Record of Decision on Wednesday, UDOT announced the following:

Gondola Alternative B, with phased implementation, overall best meets the project purpose and need and the short and long term transportation needs for the canyon. The gondola provides the highest travel reliability, as it can operate independently of S.R. 210, avoiding delays related to adverse weather, crashes, slide offs, and slow moving traffic. While the gondola does have high visual impacts, it has low impacts to the watershed, wildlife movement, and climbing boulders, along with low operations and maintenance costs. Full implementation of Gondola B depends on available funding.

UDOT Project Manager Josh Van Jura said the decision to select a gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon was not made quickly.

“It took more than five years of thorough research, analysis, engineering, public outreach, and the careful review of roughly 50,000 formal public comments, more than any previous environmental study in UDOT’s history, to come to this decision,” Van Jura said in a statement.

 

Little Cottonwood Gondola encompasses a three-phase plan

Those who enjoy Little Cottonwood Canyon and those who live near it won’t see construction begin on a gondola immediately. Van Jura told KSL NewsRadio that the project will proceed in stages. The first stage is to add bus service.

“So phase one, is to actually implement increased bus service in Little Cottonwood Canyon. And that’ll involve building a mobility hub at the current gravel tip just north of Big Cottonwood,” Van Jura said.

The mobility hub will serve both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons “in the short term,” Van Jura said. It is connected to the use of more busses getting people up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Once the gondola is built in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Van Jura said the mobility hub would be used exclusively for traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Phase 3 will include building a parking structure at the base of the gondola in Sandy.

Little Cottonwood Canyon is pictured on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. UDOT released an animated video Tuesday, June 29, 2021, that depicts what a gondola system would look like in Little Cottonwood Canyon. (UDOT) Emily Warner, left, holds a sign protesting a Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola on Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News) The potential site for the base station of a proposed gondola, in the bottom center of the image between North Little Cottonwood Road and a private drive. A Gondola Works sign is pictured near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Gondola Works is a coalition of stakeholders, canyon users and businesses that supports a high-capacity gondola in the canyon.  The potential site for the base station of a proposed gondola, in the center of the image between North Little Cottonwood Road and a private drive, is pictured at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Signs are held during public comment during a Wasatch Front Regional Council meeting in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Many protested the plans to add unfinalized recommendations from Utah Department of Transportation to build a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The route of a proposed gondola with a base station east of the La Caille restaurant at 9565 S. Wasatch Blvd., in Sandy  It's one of five proposals included as viable options for transportation solutions in Little Cottonwood Canyon, according to a Utah Department of Transportation environmental impact study.

Opposition to the Little Cottonwood gondola remains strong

“It’s quite disappointing,”  Brad Rutledge, with Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, told KSL NewsRadio after the announcement on Wednesday.

And Rudledge isn’t only talking about the decision to build a gondola that his group and others opposed. He said that the decision should be a red flag for all Utahns.

 

” … our government’s surely not working,” he said. “It’s not representative of what the people want.
The gondola plan is not representative of what the users of Little Cottonwood Canyon wants, and yet it continues to move forward.

“UDOT’s in a position to move forward with a proposal that’s wildly unpopular, and yet, the mayors that are most impacted by this are found helpless to do anything to stop it.

One mayor speaks out

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson told KSL NewsRadio that she had put “thousands of hours,” into researching, discussing, and advocating within the issue of transportation needs in Little Cottonwood Canyon. She said it’s a personal matter, as much as a political one.


 

“I have a personal passion for these canyons, out Wasatch canyons, but they’re also so important to who we are, as a county, who we are as a state. And they matter to our economy. They matter to us,” she said.

“We need to protect them.”

So while she has been against the gondola plan, she expected Wednesday’s announcement. She is energized that UDOT will phase-in the gondola plan, beginning with more bus service.

“I guess at some level, I’m happy to see this ROD issued so that we can put it behind us. And we can move on to phase one, what I’ve been calling additional common common sense solutions.

“I’m actually really anticipating the public is going to respond with being willing to hop on those buses. And we’re going to prove that we never need that gondola. That’s my hope.”

Senate reaction

Late Wednesday afternoon Utah Sen. President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, issued the following statement.

“I appreciate the Utah Department of Transportation’s thoughtful process and the Utahns who engaged and provided their feedback. This solution took into account the sensitivity of Little Cottonwood Canyon while helping provide prompt relief to traffic congestion. I am excited to see enhanced public transportation buses be operational in the canyon. Additionally, this phased approach enables UDOT to see what phases might be needed in the future.”

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UDOT chooses gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon