Officials Call Little Cottonwood Gondola a ‘Mess’, Tell UDOT to Start Over with Canyon Plan

As Utah transportation officials wrap up their multi-year study of potential transportation solutions for Little Cottonwood Canyontwo completely different visions have been mapped out for the future of Utah’s famed ski destination, which is increasingly associated with traffic jams than breathtaking outdoor recreation.

On one side is the ski industry-backed idea of ​​an 8-mile gondola linking Alta to the mouth of the canyon, which has caught the attention of elected leaders who see the project, with its towers of 200 feet and its cables hanging, like an eyesore and a mess.

Driven by a very careful advertising campaign, the gondola seems to have the best chance of being selected over an extensive bus service and less intrusive possibilities.

According Gondola works‘, produced by Love Communications, the gondola would be the most efficient, environmentally friendly and least disruptive option.

“Canyon [road] expanding more buses would mean concrete on nature, polluted rivers and streams, displacement of wildlife, and loss of climbing resources,” says an actor portraying an affable skier in a video. “Gondola Works invites you to rise above the dangers and hassles of the road and imagine the possibilities of a sustainable future, leaving you free to enjoy the scenic journey ahead.”

This guy has it all, according to many elected officials who spoke Wednesday at a rally organized by Save our canyons at the mouth of the canyon. The rally drew around 100 people, many of whom voiced their opposition to the gondola project by loudly encouraging speakers denouncing the project. Elected officials are now joining environmental and recreational groups in denouncing the gondola option, calling it an unwarranted subsidy to the ski industry that would irreparably spoil the exquisite views of the canyon and could worsen overcrowding.

“Don’t you think the canyon deserves a little more time for us to get it right,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson. “Rather than destroying the canyon with a half-billion-dollar prize, let’s invest in common-sense solutions. Parking lots in the valley, electric buses with regular lines, carpooling and tolls, reservations, common sense and fiscally sound solutions. Gondolas and wider roads are going to be built all over the world, but God will no longer create canyons for us.

She was joined by the mayors of Sandy and Alta, the two towns at either end of the gondola, lawmakers, Salt Lake County Council members, Salt Lake City officials, as well as various activists, who want that the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) abandon its draft transportation plan and start over.

“When people first see the gondola, they may be intrigued and think it’s a fun novelty. But once they learn that it’s actually the Utah taxpayer who pays for the shuttle of guests to private resort areas, it gives them pause,” Sandy’s new mayor said. Monica Zoltanski, who campaigned to pledge to fight the gondola. “Another thing that stops people in their tracks is when they think of massive metal structures, trellises that go up, creating a highway in the sky of this beautiful view.”

Snowbirds general manager Dave Fields, who attended the rally, pushed back, saying doing nothing is not an option.

“That’s what has happened over the past two decades. And we worked with UTA to create more buses and encourage carpooling,” Fields said in an interview. “But what UDOT envisions is a transportation solution for this canyon for the next 30 years to 2050, and with another million people living along the Wasatch front, this congestion and the demand for recreation in the canyons will only intensify. ”

UDOT narrowed its alternatives to buses and the gondola last year when it issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), which garnered some 14,000 public comments. The agency plans to release its final EIS this summer, with a decision by winter.

“UDOT narrowed it down to turning Little Cottonwood Canyon into a four-lane highway, or [building] a gondola. The impact on the canyon and water and air quality is much less with a gondola,” Fields said. “It’s proven technology that’s used around the world to move people through canyons and across mountain ranges, including the Eiger. [in the Swiss Alps] and all kinds of places across Europe.

Many see UDOT’s draft plan as simply offering a false choice between two equally nasty alternatives, both costing more than $500 million. The bus option involves adding a third lane to National Road 210, cutting large retaining walls into the side of the mountain, and constructing expensive “avalanche shelters”, which look much more like hardened bunkers, protecting the highway where it crosses the canyon’s many dangerous slide paths. .

Wilson said in an interview after Wednesday’s rally that she supports alternatives to both the gondola and track extension, saying there are alternatives to both options.

“Road expansion has a real cost and I’m not sure the public understands that we’re talking about the gondola today,” Wilson said. “There are plenty (options) without road extensions or additional lanes.”

The plan lacks strategies that would reduce vehicular traffic without masses of concrete or dozens of steel towers, according to Wasatch Hinterland Alliance and other reviews. They cite Alta’s and Snowbird’s new parking reservation systems and offer tolling as a proven way to reduce peak hour traffic.

Meanwhile, on his facebook pageGondola Works says the naysayers’ real goal is to keep people out.

“Those attacking Gondola don’t want you in the canyon. As Utahns, we can’t lose our access to some of the best recreation in the world! reads a recent message.

“As Utahns, we can’t let you greedy devs twist the perspective and turn this into us versus them,” one reviewer said.

The gondola would move up to 3,400 people per hour, using cars that can hold 35 people and cover the distance to Alta in 36 minutes with a single intermediate stop at Snowbird. At the base terminal near La Caille Restaurant would be a 1,500-space parking structure that would likely include restaurants, skier services, and a transit center linked to Utah Transit Authority bus routes.

One of the gondola’s main supporters is longtime Little Cottonwood developer and skier Chris McCandless, a former Sandy City Councilman who once chaired the Central Wasatch Commission.

“The gondola is a better option,” he recently said on the Utah Real Estate podcast. “It’s safer, it’s more reliable, it’s reliable, it has the ability to do less damage to the environment. We can get more people, if we want to get more cars off the road, into the canyon by gondola compared to the bus.

McCandless has drawn attention in the past for holding a stake in the land where the terminal would be located, prompting some to argue that his support for the gondola was profit-driven. While denying the charge, he said he recently sold the property.

Although the gondola would have to be put on hiatus during avalanche control work, it could operate in almost any weather condition and at a cost of about $3.6 million per year less than buses, McCandless said. . In contrast, the buses could not move much more than 1,000 people per hour, less than a third of the rate of the gondola.

Reviewers note that the gondola would only serve those visiting the ski areas, although many visit the canyon for recreation scattered in locations away from the base areas of the resort, such as White Pine, Grizzly Gulch, Albion Basin and Lisa Falls.

“You just overlooked the clean and green options in order to make the gondola look better,” said Carl Fisher of Save Our Canyons. “To fix transport in the Wasatch and in the region, we can do a lot of things. Before destroying a canyon with towers and wider roads, we have other solutions that are much easier to implement.

For many elected officials, the gondola proposal is fatally flawed because such a massive structure simply has no place in a glacial canyon that so many Utahns cherish.

“At the top of this canyon is a jewel in the crown of the Wasatch, a jewel that easily tarnishes and is very difficult to repair,” said Alta Mayor Roger Bourke. “Can you imagine a 20-story building here? … These things are scars. It’s not an improvement.

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