Potential Lawsuits Loom Over Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon Gondola Project

Brent Thomas | | Industry NewsIndustry News
gondola works
Some people don’t approve of the gondola. Credit: @liftblog on Twitter (“X”)

Little Cottonwood Canyon is getting a gondola – or is it? For years the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) worked to identify the best solution to the traffic problems in Little Cottonwood Canyon. This summer, after the public comment period ended on July 12, UDOT announced its decision to move forward with the implementation of a gondola proposal, aimed at alleviating traffic in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon.

As phase one of the project is underway, two separate environmental organizations are considering a lawsuit to stop the gondola. These groups are the Central Wasatch Commission (CWC) and Save Our Canyons.

The CWC sent UDOT a letter outlining five perceived issues with the gondola over the summer. These issues were:

  • UDOT was not comprehensive enough in its traffic congestion analysis process.
  • UDOT failed to use an accurate purpose statement that avoided studying the impacts of a million people and their vehicles in the canyon.
  • The study area was too small, allowing UDOT to ignore all congestion leading to the canyon.
  • UDOT didn’t recognize and study the latent demand of current canyon users, which is of much larger magnitude than population growth.
  • The gondola violates the “roadless rule” intended to stop segmenting the designated roadless areas into smaller and less functional units.

A potential suit from Save Our Canyons would likely be based on the same or similar issues.

The 8-mile proposed route. The base will have parking for 1,800 cars, lockers for rent, as well as food, and shops. Each cabin will hold 32 passengers and have heated seats, as well as Wi-Fi and phone chargers. It will be able to keep moving when traffic stops or when avalanches close the road. Credit: gondolaworks.com

UDOT did respond to the letter, defending each point with a detailed reply, but it appears that was just a courtesy. This is because there is no citizen’s appeal process. The only way to stop the project now would be to go to court.

This promoted the CWC Stakeholder’s Council to vote to “take action including but not limited to a legal response to the UDOT decision.” If a lawsuit is brought against the gondola project, it would have to happen soon, as the deadline to file a complaint is December 10, 2023. This gives them only about two months to file. As of right now, there is no special meeting where the commission will decide whether a legal challenge is in the cards.

UDOT has already started implementation of Phase 1 of the project. This includes improved and increased bus service along with a mobility hub, resort bus stops, and tolling.

The gondola has been a divisive topic for some time now. The idea of a lawsuit to try to stop it is gaining momentum, but the groups considering it seem to be treading cautiously and will have to weigh the chances of success of challenging it in court. Certainly, we haven’t heard the last of this topic, especially since Phase 2 and 3 of the project aren’t even funded yet, and some experts believe the total cost of the project will exceed $1 billion.

Little Cottonwood Canyon. Credit: SnowBrains

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