On the Site:


‘A big nut to crack’: Utah commission conflicted on how to react to canyon gondola plan

Oct 11, 2022, 3:33 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 11:59 pm

Little Cottonwood Canyon is pictured on Oct. 4. Members of the Central Wasatch Commission's transpo...

Little Cottonwood Canyon is pictured on Oct. 4. Members of the Central Wasatch Commission's transportation committee met Monday to discuss a formal recommendation to the Utah Department of Transportation regarding a plan for a proposed gondola and other action to travel in the canyon. (Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The members of the Central Wasatch Commission’s transportation committee certainly have their thoughts about a proposed plan for a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon; however, they aren’t ready to formally comment on the plan.

The committee’s meeting adjourned Monday afternoon without a final recommendation for how the commission should respond to the Utah Department of Transportation’s environmental impact statement, which was announced in August. It calls for a gondola after other measures, including enhanced bus service in the canyon, are implemented to ease traffic issues during the busiest days in the canyon.

A 45-day public comment window on the proposed plan closes next week before the agency files a record of decision, either by the end of the year or early next year. Members of the commission’s transportation committee agreed on Monday to forward the notes from the meeting to the full commission for more discussion before a final vote, which is expected to be held on the last day of public comment.

“I know we have limited time, but it’s a big nut to crack,” said Brighton Mayor Dan Knopp, a member of the committee, before its members decided to wrap up their online meeting.

A resolution wouldn’t alter any of the project’s timeline, but it would offer a window into how elected leaders of residents closest to the project feel about the proposed plan. The commission was created in 2017 through an agreement between municipal and county leaders in Salt Lake and Summit counties to address the transportation, economy, recreation and environment challenges in the mountains between the two counties. Its leadership is composed of elected leaders in the communities that have stakes in the land.

While no formal decision was made Monday, its jurisdiction members indicate that they believe something needs to be done — just not with a gondola. Both the Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City councils condemned the gondola proposal last week. The county’s resolution, which passed through a narrow 5-4 vote, asks for UDOT to consider smaller, less invasive alternatives before constructing a massive gondola.

The city’s resolution, which passed unanimously, asserts that a gondola “has a very high cost to taxpayers … (that) serves only two private ski resorts,” and that UDOT’s environmental impact statement failed to “effectively consider many of the additional water resources risks” associated with the project. Salt Lake City holds the water rights in the canyon.

Both Sandy Mayor Monica Zoltanski and Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Weichers said Monday that they expect to file similar resolutions in the near future. Zoltanski explained that she isn’t sure if the Sandy City Council feels the same way as her, but she’s for a phased implementation of alternatives like increased bus service and against a future gondola.

“I feel like we can achieve (UDOT’s goal of) 30% reduction in vehicle traffic by doing the phased approach — tolling, carpooling (and) enhanced bussing without the road widening,” she said.

Every time we have a conversation we have another hundred questions. I think this is going to take some peeling of the onion to get where we need to be. — Brighton Mayor Dan Knopp

Weichers said he believes the Cottonwood Heights City Council has “enough consensus” to oppose the proposed gondola. The city is also “really, really against” a planned 2,500-stall parking structure that would be constructed near the mouth of the canyon.

Other communities are still trying to decide how to react to the environmental impact statement. There are hundreds of pages of information to sort through, which is why it has taken weeks for communities close to the canyon to make a decision. Yet despite all of this information, some of the committee members said they are having a tough time trying to figure out the importance of everything that isn’t really answered in the document.

Knopp said he believes parking needs to be addressed in some form or fashion, but the plan has some holes in it. Brighton recently asked UDOT to clarify how a toll program would work, noting a concern that delivery trucks wouldn’t be allowed up the canyon in some instances. Knopp wasn’t satisfied with the agency’s response, which he said is somewhat emblematic of the report.

“In my opinion, the contortions that they’ve gone through to hit their metrics and hit their marks skip over reality, and it really doesn’t address some or very much. … Every time we have a conversation we have another hundred questions,” he said. “I think this is going to take some peeling of the onion to get where we need to be.”

There are several additional questions that the transportation committee wants UDOT to address, such as what year-round service would look like, what the current cost is in current dollar figures, and what will be done to ensure the canyon’s environment is protected for the long haul, said Blake Perez, the executive director of the commission. Additional questions centered around the timeline of implementation, the origin of travel of canyon visitors and what measures should be used to determine if the project is a success.

With so many unknowns still ahead, Knopp said he’s hopeful that UDOT’s phased approach to canyon projects will give members of the Central Wasatch Commission time “sort this out as we go along.”

Turning an eye to Big Cottonwood Canyon

Little Cottonwood Canyon wasn’t the only focus of the meeting. Members of the Central Wasatch Commission’s transportation committee also discussed the future of travel in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The commission is currently working on an action plan to address future travel challenges in the canyon, which is located north of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It accepted requests for proposals back in August for projects that could be included in the plan, which will be a “playbook containing a prioritized list of near-, mid- and long-term recommendations,” according to the commission.

Vehicles travel up Big Cottonwood Canyon on Saturday morning. The canyon road is the subject of an ongoing Central Wasatch Commission action plan.
Vehicles travel up Big Cottonwood Canyon on Saturday morning. The canyon road is the subject of an ongoing Central Wasatch Commission action plan. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

Angie Bauer-Fellows, a senior transportation and environmental planner for infrastructure consulting firm AECOM, which is working with the commission in developing a plan, said there are some more steps in developing a plan expected this year but a “more detailed” discussion for mobility hub considerations, such as potential locations and amenities, are scheduled to occur in February 2023.

A draft plan isn’t expected until the spring, meaning the project still has plenty of time to take shape. The project will focus on year-round traffic concerns instead of seasonal problems, according to members of the committee.

One thing is certain from Monday’s update, though: the committee aims to craft a project that is clear to everyone.

“I just want to make sure we’re setting ourselves up for success and (managing) expectations,” Zoltanski said. “I don’t want to redo the Little Cottonwood Canyon experience. I just want to get to the heart of the issues. … That’s our goal.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Kevin Franke and his attorneys walk into a conference room following a juvenile court hearing on Se...

Pat Reavy, KSL.com

Husband of YouTube vlogger Ruby Franke files for divorce

The husband of the popular "8 Passengers" YouTube channel vlogger has filed for divorce nearly three months after his wife Ruby Franke was charged with abusing their children.

37 minutes ago

In the moment they feel like small purchases, right? An ornament here. A stocking stuffer there. A ...

Matt Gephardt

How you can avoid holiday debt despite the pressure to spend

In the moment they feel like small purchases, right? An ornament here. A stocking stuffer there. A last-minute office gift. But all this can quickly add up to a financial holiday hangover. And perhaps it’s one you’re still feeling from the last holiday season.

8 hours ago

The inversion as seen from Salt Lake City on Nov. 29, 2023. (Jack Grimm, KSL TV)...

Debbie Worthen and Mary Culbertson, KSL TV

Utah leaders face uphill battle on clean air before 2034 Olympic Games

Part of Utah's agreement with IOC requires clean air for the Olympic Games in 2034 if Salt Lake is to host. Leaders have ambitious plans for the next decade in attempt to make it happen.

8 hours ago

A picture of Powder, the official Olympic mascot in 2002, who was played by Heather Mickey, picture...

Mary Culbertson and Andrew Adams, KSL TV

2002 Olympic mascot reflects on her time as Powder after big announcement

An official Olympic mascot looks back on her time during the Games in 2002, and talks about what excites her for 2034.

9 hours ago

American Preparatory Academy on Nov. 29 after it was evacuated for carbon monoxide fumes found in t...

Mary Culbertson and Lauren Steinbrecher, KSL TV

Potentially 45 preschoolers and 10 adults exposed to carbon monoxide at American Prep Academy

Five toddlers and five adults were taken to the hospital after being exposed to carbon monoxide at American Preparatory Academy.

10 hours ago

(KSL TV)...

Lindsay Aerts

Student accused of attacking Kearns High teacher has special needs, district says

The Granite School district is now investigating what it calls an “egregious” attack on a teacher in the classroom. That teacher is said to be recovering, as is an Assistant Principal and a resource officer who assisted the teacher.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

‘A big nut to crack’: Utah commission conflicted on how to react to canyon gondola plan