Following an argumentative meeting on Thursday, May 25, the Wasatch Front Regional Council approved a regional transportation plan that includes a gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. The gondola project—which has yet to garner official approval from the Utah Department of Transportation—was included in the plan on certain conditions, as reported by Deseret News. The approval came after a unanimous vote that emphasized a phased approach to improving transportation in the canyon, listing the gondola as the third phase of the plan and prioritizing more ‘passive’ approaches to dealing with Little Cottonwood’s traffic woes, which often leaves the canyon closed for hours or even days during periods of high avalanche danger.
- Related: Avalanches Closed Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT, For 1,480 Hours Last Season (Nearly 2 Months of Restricted Access)
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson proposed a motion to remove the gondola from the plan, but it failed with only two “yes” votes, including Mayor Wilson’s and Holladay Mayor Robert Dahle’s, Deseret News reports.
Aligning with the current environmental impact statement released by UDOT, the approved plan spans the course of the next 30 years and focuses on over 1,000 potential transportation projects across the Wasatch Front. It prioritizes the first two phases over the gondola; Phase One involves increased busing, road widening, and tolling private vehicles in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, while Phase Two includes the construction of snow sheds to protect the road from avalanches.
The estimated cost of the gondola project is over $1 billion, with a 2023 cost of $391 million—significantly higher than UDOT’s original estimate of $550 million. The plan also includes hundreds of other transportation upgrades, such as expanding trails in the foothills and adding a lane to parts of Salt Lake City’s Redwood Road.
Of the 100 attendees at the meeting Thursday, several passionately expressed their opinions. There were moments of both protest and applause in the room. While there were supporters and opponents of the gondola present, the majority of public commenters outwardly opposed it.
Despite disagreements over the gondola, the council recognized the potential consequences of removing it from the plan. According to Deseret News, Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini explained that excluding the gondola could lead to litigation and delays, possibly hindering other necessary projects aimed at improving congestion and air quality in Utah.
Concerns about legal implications of omitting projects from the plan also arose, such as the possibility of the Federal Highway Administration rejecting the plan altogether. However, the validity of these concerns came into question with Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson stating at the meeting that no federal law prohibits the exclusion of the gondola from the regional transportation plan.
Although the gondola project was selected by UDOT as its preferred option to deal with traffic issues in Little Cottonwood Canyon after an extensive environmental review, the final decision is still pending release. The final plan still could look much different than the current one that is being proposed. The public, of which the majority appears to be vehemently against the gondola, hopes to have their opinions considered in the creation of the regional transportation plan, which is still ongoing.