Transportation Department moves forward with plans for gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon

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Little Cottonwood Canyon is located off Wasatch Boulevard, 15 miles outside of Salt Lake City. A gondola will soon inhabit this space. (Emma Keddington)

Utah Department of Transportation announced plans to move forward with the construction of Gondola Alternative B in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The project aims to increase transportation to ski resorts Alta and Snowbird during the winter season. Gondola Alternative B will reportedly allow easier access to these resorts as it will continue to run through storms, heavy traffic and accidents in the canyon.

UDOT hopes the Gondola will decrease the severe gridlock that has plagued Little Cottonwood Canyon over the past few years.

The implementation plan for Gondola Alternative B is broken up into three phases, according to UDOT. The first phase, which will likely begin this summer, reportedly involves increasing bus transportation and efficiency. This phase also calls for the construction of resort bus stops and increased roadside parking restrictions during the winter, according to UDOT.

The first phase should be complete by 2025, according to UDOT. The second and third phases are reportedly dependent on available funding.

While UDOT said Gondola Alternative B will improve transportation and efficiency for skiers and snowboarders, it is being met with controversy from Utah locals.

Although these plans have a very small environmental impact, they have a high visual impact, according to the EIS Record of Decision. The high visual impact is cause for protests and anger from locals.

Josh Van Jura, the project manager for this endeavor, emphasized that UDOT “looked at all of the impacts holistically associated with each of the alternatives, but we also considered an alternative’s ability to solve the project’s purpose and need.”

The decision to move forward with Gondola Alternative B and begin phase one was not taken lightly, and according to Van Jura, “We’ve thought about this from many different angles.”

Despite UDOT’s insistence that this alternative is the best solution to the heavy traffic and dangerous roads seen throughout winter months, locals are not convinced the gondola is the answer to their problems.

Ben Brown, a BYU student and Salt Lake City local, said of the gondola, “It’s pretty sad and would definitely change our little perfect canyon.”

Brown remains hopeful that they “might try and do some alternatives” before building the gondola.

Due to the high costs of building the gondola, it is possible UDOT will never advance to phase three of this plan, according to the phased implementation plan released by UDOT.

“Just because an alternative is cleared for implantation doesn’t mean it’s necessarily constructed. It would depend on funding,” Van Jura said.

This Park and Ride is the current way that people get from the bottom of the canyon to the top. This will change upon the gondola’s arrival. (Emma Keddington)

The public is not only concerned about the high visual impact, but also remains in doubt over the effectiveness of the gondola. Public Protesters have raised concerns over the ability of the gondola to operate effectively amidst heavy winter storms.

However, Van Jura insisted that gondolas are designed to work in adverse weather conditions. He said the only real threat to the gondola would be a lightning strike, which is a very rare occurrence in Utah winters.

Although many locals remain upset about the decision to move forward with this alternative, the building of the gondola is the last phase in the plans for this alternative as seen in the phased implementation plan. Van Jura emphasized that they “are not just jumping to the gondola.” Phase one is reportedly solely focused on improving the bus system by increasing bussing, adding resort bus stops and developing the mobility hub.

According to Van Jura, UDOT is investing $150 million in the success of the bus system and is committed to that success.

While many locals negatively view the decision to begin phase one of the Gondola Alternative B plan, phase one strives to improve winter traffic and safety in the canyon and does not include building any infrastructure for the gondola.

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