Group sues UDOT to block work on Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola

Dec 5, 2023, 7:26 AM | Updated: 9:57 am

A group is suing the Utah Department of Transportation to try and halt construction of a gondola in...

A group is suing the Utah Department of Transportation to try and halt construction of a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of individuals and two environmental nonprofits are suing the Utah Department of Transportation to halt the construction of a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, accuses UDOT of exceeding its authority and failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act in approving in July the construction of a gondola which is intended to ease traffic congestion during busy winter months when skiers flock to Little Cottonwood Canyon’s resorts.

The complaint was filed by two nonprofits, Friends of Alta and International Outdoor Recreation Asset Alliance, and Craig Heimark, Jeff Schmidt, Victoria Schmidt, Margaret Bourke and Kirk Nichols. Other groups have also said they are considering legal action against the gondola.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to set aside UDOT’s record of decision in selecting “Gondola Alternative B” by “seeking judicial review of UDOT’s arbitrary and capricious analysis and decision, including its failure to comply with the procedural and substantive requirements” of the National Environmental Policy Act, and barring UDOT from taking action on the gondola project until it has “fully complied” with the act.

In asking the court to halt the work, the lawsuit cites the gondola’s estimated price tag of over $725 million (not including operating expenses), the potential cost to users, its impact on the canyon’s watershed and wildlife. It also questions whether any improvement in traffic would be significant or if it “will result in, at best, a savings of a few minutes of transport time for the average winter visitor to the canyon.”

The gondola’s “purported value to the public at large is marginal at best, and at worst, a permanent blight on an otherwise invaluable treasure that could realistically worsen canyon (and surrounding) traffic congestion and increase the time associated with travel to and in the canyon. What cannot be disputed, however, is that UDOT’s arbitrary and capricious selection will forever mar Little Cottonwood Canyon’s natural beauty,” the complaint states.

UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the department could not comment on the complaint Monday. “We have not seen the details of the legal challenge and will review it when we have the information,” Gleason said.

The group filing the lawsuit said it will hold a press conference Tuesday.

UDOT chose the gondola alternative in July, in addition to tolling and increased bus service in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The gondola would be 8 miles long, making it the longest in the world, and deliver riders to Snowbird and Alta ski resorts. The project is slated to be built in three stages, beginning with the tolling and more bus services, then widening Wasatch Boulevard and building snow sheds, before work on the gondola starts.

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Group sues UDOT to block work on Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola