Public comment on Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola ends

Oct 18, 2022, 9:59 AM | Updated: 10:09 am

SANDY, Utah — On Monday evening, cars filled the Park-and-Ride at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Climbers geared up and started a hike up the hill, toward cliff faces where other climbers were making their way up or repelling down.

Families embarked on an evening hike and mountain bikers circled the lot as they cooled down from a post-work ride.

Trent Richards and Jeff Richards rode up to the back of a pickup truck parked along the lot’s edge. Trent Richards indicated that they had just finished riding a single-track trail all the way down from Snowbird.

“It’s just so pretty, the leaves are changing,” he said.

While in the fall Trent and Jeff Richards hit up Little Cottonwood Canyon after work, Trent Richards said that in the winter he comes up before work several days a week.

“I get up really early to be able to go backcountry skiing, and then go to work,” he said.

His frequent canyon recreation paired with the fact that Richards lives near the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon prompted him to submit public comment to the Utah Department of Transportation on the Final Little Cottonwood Canyon Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS.

The EIS recommended a gondola from La Caille as the best option to manage traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the future. The EIS proposes phasing in projects such as increasing bus service, tolling or restrictions on single occupancy vehicles, widening Wasatch Boulevard, building mobility hubs and snow sheds, and working on trailhead and roadside parking improvements.

According to the final EIS, the gondola alternative “is the most reliable mode of public transit in variable weather conditions and best meets the reliability goal of the project’s purpose, while taking into consideration environmental impacts, public input, and overall life-cycle cost in comparison to the other four alternatives.”

The final EIS does acknowledge that it could take “years” to get the funding to build a gondola.

The other four alternatives included enhanced bus service with no additional roadway capacity in LCC, enhanced bus service with roadway widening in LCC, a gondola from the LCC Park-and-Ride lot up or a cog rail from La Caille.

Initially, Richards said he thought the gondola was a good idea, but the more he thought about the plan, the more he grew concerned about how it would change the look of the canyon.

He indicated that in his comment to UDOT, he expressed doubt that it would actually improve transportation to and from the ski resorts.

“I don’t think it’s a great solution,” Richards said. “I don’t want to wait in line to get in a gondola, take an hour to get up to the ski resort, and then an hour to get back.”

Richards was one of more than 10,000 people who submitted comments to UDOT on the final EIS between Aug. 31 when the comment period opened, to Monday, when it closed at midnight.

Josh Van Jura, project manager for the UDOT Little Cottonwood EIS, said he’s personally read nearly 5,000 of those comments already.

“So many different points of view, things to consider,” he said, referencing the scope of what he was reading.

He expressed appreciation for everyone who took the time to write out their thoughts. They’ve seen a wide range of opinions on various aspects of the final EIS.

“Support for phasing, support for tolling, lots of concerns about visual impacts, but also support for buses, support for gondolas, support for cog rails and all the sub alternatives,” Van Jura said.

He said they’ll read and evaluate every comment to see if UDOT needs to do any additional engineering or environmental analysis based on the feedback they receive. They are not tallying up who is for or against the gondola, and Van Jura said they are not coding the comments for pros or cons against any given alternative.

“We are looking for opportunities to improve the document and make sure it’s both thorough, accurate, and complete,” Van Jura explained.

After that process plays out, Van Jura hopes UDOT will be able to issue a Record of Decision during the 2022-2023 winter season.

While Richards’ comment was already in as of his bike ride Monday evening, Jeff Richards hadn’t submitted his yet. He planned to do that before the 11:59 p.m. deadline.

He echoed Trent Richards’ sentiments, describing how he planned to also raise concerns over the gondola when it came to funding.

Jeff Richards was concerned that the estimated $550 million price tag would end up costing much more than that, and indicated he planned on writing how he believed the traffic issues aren’t worth such a costly project that will visually pollute the canyon.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said. “As someone who grew up here — and this is such a beautiful, natural resource — I would hate to see steel and cables all over up this canyon.”

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Public comment on Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola ends