SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — The Utah Department of Transportation announced it is supporting a project to build a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon -- one of two controversial options in the ongoing effort to remedy traffic issues on state Route 210.
However, UDOT's public support of the proposal, titled "Gondola B, " does not mean the project is moving forward.
Several ideas have been proposed over the past two years, but the one that has received the most attention has been a potential install a gondola. It's sparked vocal support and opposition from politicians, skiers and residents who live near the canyon. Many of those against the idea said the project would do too much damage to the environment.
UDOT's public support came after a study showed a gondola would actually have fewer environmental impacts than other options.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, UDOT announced the Gondola B project is "the single preferred alternative developed as part of the Little Cottonwood Canyon Final Enviornmental Impact Statement to improve transportation in the canyon," and it "best meets the project purpose and need and provides the highest travel reliability for the public."
The environmental impact study will be published at littlecottonwoodeis.udot.utah.gov, where it can be reviewed during a public comment period through Oct. 17.
UDOT also posted two videos to its YouTube page that explain the EIS and the results.
“We know how important this study is to so many canyon users, as the amount of public participation and comments we’ve received far surpasses any previous environmental study in UDOT’s history,” said UDOT Project Manager Josh Van Jura. “With numerous studies over many years as the starting point for addressing the transportation challenges in Little Cottonwood Canyon, we relied on the EIS process of in-depth technical analysis and environmental assessment, along with agency and public input, to identify Gondola B as the preferred alternative in the Final EIS.”
Even after the public comment period, though, additional measures would have to be taken before the project could move forward. Most importantly, the state would need to secure funding, a process that could take years.
In July 2020, both UDOT and Snowbird Ski Resort proposed the similar ideas, which could potentially shuttle up to 5,000 people per hour, theoretically cutting back thousands of cars from the canyon road each day.
However, the proposal didn't sit well with some, including several elected leaders.
After UDOT narrowed the proposals down to two finalists -- a gondola or widening the road and adding more buses -- Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she opposed both ideas. However, she would choose the road widening project if she had to, but only if it could be done in phases.
Sandy City Mayor Monica Zoltanski has also been vocal about the idea, saying at a recent demonstration against a proposed gondola that "the people of Sandy do not want a gondola up this canyon."
However, the final decision rests with the Utah Department of Transportation.
"Ultimately it's UDOT's call," spokesman John Gleason told 2News when the idea was first proposed.
During peak winter months, congestion can keep state Route 210 congested from sunup to sundown as recreationists travel to the ski resorts. The canyon's capacity for vehicles tops out quickly during ski season, which leads to constant uphill restrictions.
Additionally, winter enthusiasts can find themselves either without a way to get to the resort or no way to get down the canyon if there is inclement weather or avalanches that close the road altogether.
UDOT authorities will take the public comments into consideration during the selection of alternatives and sub-alternatives. The final decision will be announced this winter, according to UDOT.
Implementation of the plan, whatever it is, can only begin when money is available. Public comments can be made at UDOT's Little Cottonwood Canyon project website.