Utah’s Gondola Solution to Traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon Could Double in Cost to Over $1 Billion

Brent Thomas | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Illustration of the proposed gondola. Credit: gondolaworks.com

Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah has a traffic problem. On weekends and powder days cars can be lined up for miles trying to get to Alta and Snowbird. Additionally, nine miles of SR 210 has 64 avalanche paths that can completely close the road. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is trying to come up with a solution.

The main cause of traffic problems in the canyon is due to weather. Credit: gondolaworks.com

The Gondola

A solution has not been decided on yet, but one of the options is to build a gondola from the La Caille base station up to the ski resorts. It is estimated that the cost of such a project would be $592 million. This doesn’t even factor in the estimated annual maintenance costs of $10.6 million. Additional capital expenses are also expected to be nearly $40 million by 2051.

However, many are skeptical of that estimate and insist it could cost much more. The estimates were made prior to inflation and didn’t factor in the rising cost of construction materials like steel and concrete. Large, unique, and complex construction projects can easily run significantly over budget. When you factor in cost overruns, delays, inflation, and earthquake mitigation, they could be looking at a cost of $1 billion or more. Taxpayers are traditionally the ones who bear this extra expense.

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

The Bus System

Alternatively, an enhanced bus system with road improvements is suggested. The cost is expected to be $510 million. Annual operating expenses are estimated to be $11 million (winter only). Additional capital costs needed by 2051 would be $95 million.

Comparing the options

The total capital and maintenance cost UDOT estimates for each project through 2053 is as follows:

  • Gondola: $724 million
  • Enhanced bus system: $782 million

Both alternatives have their supporters and naysayers. Some question whether either project is worthwhile.

Related: Ski Utah Strongly Supports a Gondola as the Answer to Little Cottonwood Canyon Traffic Woes and Proposed Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, Gondola Losing Support

UDOT will recommend a single option soon. After that, it will go into a 30-day public review. UDOT will then make their final recommendation, likely by early 2023. After that, it will go to the legislature who will ultimately decide if the project gets funded.

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5 thoughts on “Utah’s Gondola Solution to Traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon Could Double in Cost to Over $1 Billion

  1. It seems crazy to me to build a billion dollar gondola and not have it go up the mountain range between little cottonwood and big cottonwood and extend it to the Jordenelle reservoir/hwy 189. Then it could serve all the resorts instead of just Alta/Snowbird and save traffic on both roads, and provide an alternative park and ride facility and access point on hwy 189. For this outlay you could possibly include a couple stops along the way for more back country descents. Make the Wasatch a big European style interconnected super resort. Do a wind study and see if the towers can happen.

  2. That’s not the local impression at all. The notion of a gondola is DOA. The hundreds of residents involved have flatly rejected it. And in March I spoke with the Doppelmayr rep who told me that his company also considers it dead.

  3. Not to mention that on weekends or storm days, the traffic starts miles (30 mins-1 hr) before you would even get to the proposed gondola.

  4. Not into the Gondola. Our problems are far less than our neighbors in Colorado. So it takes a while to get there. It will forever change the the landscape. It is a tax burden I do not want to pay for. The problem only arises when the weather is bad going up. On those days I avoid the LCC all together.

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