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.
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 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.
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.