UDOT, UPD Enforcing Traction Laws Up Canyons

Jan 9, 2020, 9:29 PM

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah  – Fresh powder at Utah ski resorts today lured a lot of traffic into the mountains. But, UDOT is trying new tactics this year to improve safety and cut down on long delays in the Cottonwood Canyons.

Plenty of people took the bus and carpooled today. You could tell by the full park-and-ride lots on Wasatch Boulevard this morning. That helps thin the traffic. But, UDOT hopes other, new strategies will also cut down on skier traffic headaches.

“What we’re trying to do is provide real-time, relevant information for people traveling in and out of the canyon,” said John Thomas, a UDOT Project Manager focused on transportation challenges in the Cottonwood Canyons.

Many skiers we talked with are eager for smoother travel in the canyons on busy powder days.

“It’s kind of scary sometimes just because of how many cars are going up,“ said Paige Cameron, who was headed to Alta today with her friend, Natalie Morgan.

They took the bus because they don’t have four-wheel drive, and they like the other benefits.

“It’s just easier to get up there,” said Morgan. “You don’t have to worry about parking up there either, and it’s convenient.“

“I know there was one day this year where people were stuck in the canyons for six hours. I wouldn’t want to be in that situation,” said Cameron.

That was November 29, Black Friday. Since then, UDOT and the Unified Police Department have stepped up enforcement of the traction law that prohibits vehicles from entering the canyons without four-wheel drive, or two-wheel drive with the right tires and chains.

“I think that’s a really good idea because I don’t want scary drivers. If me and my dad are headed up the mountain, we don’t want to be put at risk by someone who doesn’t have snow tires,” said Morgan.

Yesterday, Cameron drove her two-wheel drive car up Little Cottonwood Canyon with no restrictions in place. She ran into trouble when it was snowing on the way down.

“I hit like a patch of ice or something, and I ended up sliding and almost slipping all the way around, and I ended up hitting a snowbank,” she said.

Two guys pushed her back onto the road.

“That was a really scary situation,” Cameron said. I never want to drive my car up there again.”

UDOT plans to hire two people for enforcement and education of the traction law at the mouth of both Cottonwood Canyons. But the key strategy is better communication through the UDOT Cottonwood Canyons website and Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media channels.

“Improving the communication tools for people to access that information, whether it’s through mobile devices or other means, is really a key aspect of what UDOT is doing,“ said Thomas.

This morning, those online resources updated skiers and snowboarders on canyon conditions as early as 4 AM.

“Just reminding people how important it is to pay attention to the traction law,” said Thomas.

This season, UDOT has a full-time canyons communications specialist gathering information from multiple sources, including the ski resorts. The specialist posts specific, relevant information when users need it.

“We provide that to the public so that they can better understand the conditions and the challenges that might be in the canyons that day.”

Thomas acknowledges that no single solution solves all of the traffic problems up in the canyons. UDOT, he said, Is making progress through multiple tweaks in a complex system, including more engineering changes to come, and open houses that include public input.

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UDOT, UPD Enforcing Traction Laws Up Canyons