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UDOT Picks Gondola Option For Little Cottonwood; Funding Battle Looms

UDOT-Canyon-View The road up to Snowbird and Alta has long been congested with traffic, but a proposed gondola project has moved a small step toward alleviating that. (Image via UDOT)

Maybe, just maybe, perhaps some day, there might be a gondola running up Little Cottonwood Canyon to ferry skiers and riders to Snowbird and Alta.

After three years of study, a formal environmental review and some 14,000 public comments, the Utah DOT has selected a gondola to load in Sandy, travel 8 miles up the canyon, and make stops at each of the two resorts as the best chance to reduce ski traffic and air pollution the tight canyon in the Wasatch Front just above Salt Lake City.

Much needs to be accomplished before the first lift tower starts to go up. Most significantly is that the Utah state legislature must appropriate funds for the construction project, which is estimated to be at least $500 million. That is likely to take several legislative sessions to sort out.

In the meantime, UDOT will enhance bus transport in the canyon -- a first step in a phased approach to lingering traffic problems in the canyon. Those phases also include mobility hubs, parking improvements and tolling.

The state transportation agency said it selected the gondola option over a road-widening option for dedicated bus lanes because the gondola would be a long-term solution to ever-growing traffic congestion. Plans call for 35-seat cabins going up and down the canyon at two-minute intervals.

Anti-gondola groups have said that phasing prior to allocating millions for a gondola might convince more skiers and riders to take public transportation to the two resorts four miles up State Route 210 -- perhaps rendering the gondola moot.

Because of the volume of skiers and riders driving up the canyon, parking has been an issue for many years, because the steep canyon restricts parking capacities to the tight base areas. Both resorts strongly encourage taking free buses from Sandy, and they also give parking preferences to those who carpool.

Snowbird was the first to require reservations through a "hybrid" system. To get one of 2,800 spots, there's a preferred parking season pass, a daily paid reservation system, valet parking for a fee, free carpooling lots (at least 4 per vehicle), and free lots that mean a bit more of a hump to get to the lifts.

Alta followed with a parking reservation system online. Those choosing to drive up the canyon to Alta have had to reserve a spot before heading up.

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