UDOT picks Gondola Alternative B for Little Cottonwood Canyon transit solution
Jul 12, 2023, 10:20 AM | Updated: 6:56 pm
SANDY, Utah — The Utah Department of Transportation says it will move forward with plans to build a gondola to improve transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
UDOT on Wednesday issued the record of decision, which is the final step in the environmental impact statement process. That process led to three options: a gondola or two options involving bus service. In June 2021, UDOT released two preferred alternatives – a rapid bus service or the gondola – for the public to comment on.
“This decision will help improve transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon now and into the future,” said Josh Van Jura, UDOT trails and group director and Little Cottonwood EIS project manager.“It took more than five years of thorough research, analysis, engineering, public outreach, and the careful review of roughly 50,000 formal public comments, more than any previous environmental study in UDOT’s history, to come to this decision.”
Which option did UDOT select?
Officials said the Gondola Alternative B, with phased implementation of enhanced bus service alternative components, fits the project’s purpose and need and short- and long-term transportation needs for the canyon.
Big news today from our @UDOTlcceis project team – the Record of Decision has been released!
We appreciate the time, energy & input our team and all canyon stakeholders have put into the study to reach this milestone.
— Utah DOT (@UtahDOT) July 12, 2023
The project will be implemented in three phases, with planning and design for Phase 1 beginning this summer.
The first phase of the project includes improved and increased bus service scaled to meet demand with no canyon roadway widening, constructing resort bus stops and a mobility hub at the Gravel Pit, tolling and winter roadside parking restrictions.
UDOT says it will be working with the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration for permits and easements and identifying a bus service provider. Increased bus service, tolling and resort stops will be assessed further for Big Cottonwood Canyon in Phase 1.
Phase 1 is scheduled to be finished by fall 2025.
Van Jura told KSL Newsradio’s “Dave and Dujanovic” that funding is currently available for this phase. He estimates that there will be a 10- to 15-minute bus service up the canyon beginning in the 2025-26 winter.
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Based on available funding, this phase will include widening and improving Wasatch Boulevard, building snow sheds and improving parking at trailheads.
The final phase of the project would be building the gondola and discontinuing bus service in the canyon once the gondola is operational. UDOT plans to build a base station with 2,500 parking spaces near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Each gondola cabin could hold up to 35 people and a cabin would arrive every two minutes.
The total capital cost of the gondola is $550 million, according to UDOT. It would also be the longest gondola in the world, at around 8 miles long.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson released a statement about the decision Wednesday.
It reads, in part, “Today’s UDOT’s decision is not surprising, and the inclusion of the gondola is disappointing. However, thanks to pressure from residents and our county’s advocacy, UDOT has committed to making sure Common-Sense Solutions in this initial phase are successful. That’s great news because it means the gondola. is not inevitable.”
Wilson’s full statement can be read below:
My statement on today's UDOT gondola decision pic.twitter.com/F8Rc0maWWm
— Mayor Jenny Wilson (@SLCoMayor) July 12, 2023
Brad Rutledge with the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance shared similar sentiments.
“We strongly believe that busing and tolling and some of these traffic controls within the existing infrastructure will work to achieve our goals and we’re adamantly against the gondola.”
Rutledge said the phased approached means that the gondola is not a done deal. His organization plans to keep fighting the gondola, while encouraging everyone to embrace the enhanced bus service.
“Everyone has the opportunity to sort of change their behavior,” he said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable, but let’s do that. Let’s do it because we don’t want to forever ruin Little Cottonwood Canyon with a gondola. So there’s for sure some glimmers of hope.”