On September 21, the University of Utah student group led by Students for the Wasatch held a public discussion about the possibility of building a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
In August, the Utah Department of Transportation selected gondola B as the preferred alternative for the expansion of State Route 210. According to UDOT websiteThis decision was made, “as part of the final Environmental Impact Statement for Little Cottonwood Canyon (EIS) to improve transportation in the valley.”
While UDOT will have to wait for the next suspension period to close, seek funding and gain approval from the Utah legislature, students at Wasatch are taking action against the construction of the gondola.
Finding common ground
“Tonight is really exciting because the conversation never happened in the audience where the anti-gondolas are talking to the pro-gondolas and we’re trying to find common ground,” said Claudia Wise, co-chair of the Wasatch Students.
The general discussion forum began with a presentation by Co-Chair Emily Beach on their position on Gondola B.
“Our position is that we oppose gondolas but advocate other solutions to improve traffic,” Beach said.
The estimated price of the gondola is $550 million. “It’s very expensive,” Beach said. She added that building the gondola would be “financially irresponsible”.
Another concern SFW faces is how construction can affect sensitive watersheds Preserve the valley’s natural beauty.
“UDOT also shows that their valley proposals are intended to attract more users to the valley rather than reduce the number of cars on the road,” Beach said.
A proposed alternative to SFW is an electric bus system.
“We would like to see a perfectly optimized bus service with electric buses,” Beach said.
Earlier this year, SFW boarded an electric bus from the Utah State Capitol through Little Cottonwood Canyon to advocate for an alternative to the gondola.
“It will also serve all valley users because the bus can stop anywhere but gondolas will only stop at resorts,” Beach said.
Alta Ski Area General Manager Michael Maughan took to the podium to present their thoughts on the gondola. Maughan said that Alta and Snowbird Resorts pay their employees and all seasonal pass holders to ride the bus free.
“This was our contribution from the industry to encourage bus rides,” he said.
According to Maugan, finding employees to operate the buses five to six months out of the year will be difficult. Recently, Alta added paid parking reservations to ease some of the traffic congestion.
“It was a positive thing,” he said. “We have seen a decrease or change in the flow of traffic in the valley.”
UDOT has proposed two solutions to help Little Cottonwood Canyon: widen the road or build a gondola.
“Among the alternatives that have been offered, we support gondolas,” Maughan said.
It is less affected by the weather and has a lower environmental impact than other options and provides another mode of transportation independent of the road, he said. He acknowledged that there would still be an environmental impact, but it would not be the same as widening the road or building train stations.
Maughan then offered five temporary solutions besides the gondola.
Their first solution was to propose a law requiring all visitors to Little Cottonwood Canyon to own an SUV with snow tires.
“I think just doing that would have a greater impact on reducing traffic congestion in the valleys than anything else,” Maughan said.
The second solution was to reduce valley closing times by using address remote controls. Current avalanche mitigation techniques create longer shutdowns, but with this technology, “it takes us minutes to do what took an hour before,” Maughan said.
The next suggestion was to provide shoulder room on the road for cars to queue in order to prevent suffocation. During traffic delays, cars will queue and join the traffic as it begins to flow again.
Optimizing traffic integrations for both Alta and Snowbird resorts is another solution.
“Maybe that’s roadside parking [at Snowbird resort] Mogan said.
Their last solution was to set up an ice scavenging station at the top of the valley.
“Someone can get on that truck and plow the road before we start slowing down in traffic,” Maughan said.
Maughan said these solutions would cost much less than the gondola proposal.
At the end of the event, people were able to ask questions anonymously through an online forum. Some of the questions asked were about the cost of the gondola or bus ticket and the environmental impact of building the gondola.
While SFW and Alta may not have all the answers, they encouraged everyone to write to lawmakers and provide feedback. Point During the comment period ending October 17.
Students can learn more about this event and upcoming events at SFW Instagram page.