Public response delays ‘records’ disputed Utah Gondola

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The Utah Department of Transportation’s high-profile initiative to relieve traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon has garnered a lot of attention. But recently, public participation has thrown a spanner in the works.

Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon twisty two-lane road will remain unchanged – at least for now. That’s because a deluge of public comment halted progress on a construction project that would alter the roadway in a bid to ease traffic in the canyon.

Background to the Little Cottonwood Road Project

As of August 2021, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) said it was in the final stages to approve one of two transportation plans for the canyon route.

The 10-mile segment of SR 210 winds through the Wasatch Mountains just east of Salt Lake City. In response to increased traffic, UDOT planned to add bus lanes or a massive gondola along its length.

The project was intended to give skiers better access to the Alta and Snowbird resorts located up the road. The UDOT collected public comments on the two proposals until September 3 last year.

Recently, the UDOT says Deseret News that more than 14,000 responses poured in during a 30-day public comment period in 2021. Project manager Josh Van Jura said he had read at least as many comments and confirmed that he would was a record for the department.

“I think that number really shows how much passion there is around Little Cottonwood Canyon,” he said.

Save comments Delay project

The sheer volume caused UDOT to take a half step back from their plans. Now, his website says it will decide on a “single preferred alternative” by the end of 2022 or early 2023 at the latest.

“The reason we’re extending the timeline is primarily due to the great public participation we’ve had to help us make sure we have an accurate and complete document,” Van Jura said.

He said the chances of finalizing the project before or after the end of 2022 are “equal”.

Previously, the UDOT had said it was “optimistic” that a recommendation would be published this month. However, spokesman John Gleason told KSL.com the ministry could push it back to ensure “a thorough process”, noting that it was “carefully considering each issue”.

Whenever UDOT makes its decision, it will go to the Utah State Legislature for funding. The legislature will likely resume it in 2023 but has not set a date for its first session of the year.

For now, it looks like the project is nearing completion. With one detail: another 30-day public review period, scheduled for the summer of 2022 after the UDOT has finalized its environmental impact study.

Cost, invasiveness and public concern

Either option would cost more than $500 million out of taxpayers’ pockets. Apart from residents who could cut the windshield time of ski trips, it appeared that the two resorts would be the main benefactors of the initiative.

Public opinion met this initiative in its tracks. Either option would permanently alter Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is relatively unspoiled at the moment except for the road and various small setbacks along the way. And the gondola would require substantial foundations in several places along the route.

This alarmed climbers, who claimed it would destroy a significant amount of canyon boulders.

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