UDOT Working On Long-Term Solutions For Busy Canyons

Feb 6, 2020, 5:48 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2020, 10:39 am

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah – The traffic rush for the Cottonwood canyons Thursday was another reminder that something has to change, as congestion intensified at the mouth of both canyons. Both Little and Big Cottonwood canyons are substantially busier on peak days than they were a decade ago. But, the Utah Department of Transportation is working on long-term solutions right now, and everyone can share their ideas.

“Way, way more traffic now. By far. By far!” said Sergeant Ed Twohill, who works the canyons for the Unified Police Department.

“The amount of cars we have coming up here is extraordinary,” he said.

By the numbers, there are more people heading into Big and Little Cottonwood canyons on a day like Thursday than in the past.

Little Cottonwood Canyon was closed Thursday due to high winds and avalanche danger. That shifted a lot more traffic over to Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Typically, 6000 cars are headed up each canyon on a peak day vying for limited parking. Traffic is growing about 2% a year.

Plus, one of the busiest days a dozen years ago is now an average day up in the Cottonwood canyons. That means there is regularly more traffic headed up the canyons on powder days, weekends and holidays than any previous year.

“It’s really important that people are carpooling, and taking mass transit,“ said Twohill.

A consulting firm working with UDOT has crunched the numbers and discovered several trains.

“In the winter, we get this huge surge of traffic,” said Frank Pisani, a project director with HDR, a local consulting firm working with UDOT. “Everybody wants to get up to the resorts before 9 o’clock in the morning. So, everybody is showing up at the same time wanting to do the same thing.”

In two-lane canyons like the Cottonwoods, that’s going to lead to a traffic jam. When it’s snowing on top of that, it slows things down even more.

“Everybody wants to go skiing when it’s snowing,” said Pisani. “So, you have inclement weather, and high volume all at the same time.”

The solo driver, or single occupant vehicle, continues to be one of the biggest problems. More than 1/3 of the cars entering the canyon on peak days are single occupant. Only 1/4 of the vehicles entering the Cottonwood canyons are carpooling with three or more.

“I like to drive with a good amount of people in my car always,” said Justin Wolf, who brought three friends up to Brighton with him. “I’ll even pick people up on the side of the road to limit congestion.”

That’s a behavioral change that makes a positive difference on traffic in the canyon.

Meantime, UDOT is working on an environmental impact statement for structural changes. A variable toll depending on the number of people in your car and the time of day is one option.

“We will be looking at a variety of measures to help change behavior and provide choices — and good choices — for people to travel up and down the canyon,” said John Thomas, a UDOT project manager focused on issues in the Cottonwood Canyons.

“When everybody’s trying to get up in the morning, or leave in the evening, those extra people enjoying the canyons really starting to cause a tipping point. We start to see more and more congestion that we didn’t see as much maybe five to 10 years ago.”

UDOT already has 1500 comments on the environmental impact statement. Thomas said they’ve been given 100 different ideas on how to ease traffic in the canyons on peak days.

This summer, UDOT will ask the public to weigh in on their top options which may include a gondola, a rail line, or an extra bus lane. One year from now, they expect to begin implementing a major traffic solution for the Cottonwood Canyons.

New this year, the UDOT Cottonwood Canyons website and social media alerts.

“We’re putting a lot more information out there to try to get people to think about their trip before they’re headed to the canyon,“ said Pisani.

This season, carpooling and mass transit are still the best ways to reduce traffic in the canyons.

“Every time we get one car off the road, that’s just one car off the road that helps everybody else’s recreation experience in the canyon,” said Thomas.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

A photo of an old boat harbor by the Great Salt Lake shoreline taken sometime between 1940 and 1960...
Carter Williams, ksl.com

How did Utahns react when the Great Salt Lake hit its previous record low in 1963?

Craig Miller was recently rifling through some old Utah water documents destined to be destroyed when he came across a peculiar set of drawings of the Great Salt Lake sketched nearly 60 years ago.
16 hours ago
FILE: Chick-fil-A restaurant. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)...
Eliza Pace

Utah Chick-fil-A employee praised for paying for family’s wedding catering

MY PLEASURE: A Chick-fil-A employee is being praised after he covered the bill for a wedding when he heard of the challenges the family had faced. 
16 hours ago
KSL TV's Casey Scott with HGTV stars Leslie Davis and Lyndsay Lamb. (Derek Petersen/KSL TV)...
Casey Scott, KSL TV

Casey Scott previews the Deseret News Home Show with ‘Unsellable Houses’ hosts

The Deseret News Home Show kicked off Friday, and we sent Casey Scott to check out everything you need to know to get those latest trends for your home.
16 hours ago
Doves were released at a UVU conference on suicide prevention in honor of lives lost to suicide. (K...
Tamara Vaifanua

1,200 attend UVU suicide prevention and awareness conference

One day, one conference with a lifetime of potential opportunities. That’s how organizers have summed up this year’s suicide prevention conference at Utah Valley University.
16 hours ago
Eliza Pace

Driver who hit 5-year-old visits him in hospital, brings him new bike

The driver who hit a 5-year-old boy wants the public to know "there are decent people out there."
16 hours ago
Ashley Moser

Opposing team offers prayer during game after learning of injured player

Dax Johnson tried his best to push through the pain at youth football practice last week but after heading home that night, he knew something was wrong.
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
UDOT Working On Long-Term Solutions For Busy Canyons