Canyon transportation plans gathering momentum
Cottonwood Heights • Never has there been more momentum than now for finding solutions to transportation problems in Wasatch Front canyons, particularly Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood.
A chorus of disparate voices echoed that sentiment Wednesday as Salt Lake County formally released three canyon transportation studies produced locally during the past year. Those voices included Carl Fisher, executive director of the conservation group Save Our Canyons, and David DeSeelhorst, owner of Solitude Mountain Resort, individuals who don't often share similar perspectives.
"Even though there's a lot of diatribe in the media, we're not really that far apart," DeSeelhorst said of their mutual hope that a transportation plan can be developed that would accommodate future growth while attempting to prevent environmental harm in the canyons.
"We've seen these political dialogues come and go, but I think this one has traction," he added. "The timing is now because there is so much information in the public domain and the politicians seem eager to deal with it."
Added Fisher, "With such broad-based buy-in from multiple jurisdictions with interests in the canyons, and everyone from environmentalists to ski resorts wanting this to happen, we can push each other to get things done. The risks of not doing anything are too great to not do something."
The recently completed studies touted Wednesday looked at Mill Creek Canyon, parking in and near the base of the canyons, and, most of all, a "mountain transportation study" of Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood.
They were conducted as a follow-up to the 2010 Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow Envision Utah process that came up with "community aspirations" for the canyons, said outgoing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
"Today, we better understand the problems, needs and possible solutions," he added. "These will lead to more studies about how to implement what the citizens wanted."
Next in line: An environmental impact statement (EIS) that would take an all-inclusive look at the central Wasatch Mountain canyons, including analyses of land use, watershed, land preservation, recreation demands and economic opportunities.
The EIS also is expected to define the need for a transportation solution, identify the best mode of moving people into and around the canyons, and establish a framework for future environmental studies evaluating specific projects proposed for construction.
But who leads the charge? Who prepares the EIS? Who pays for it?
Those details are still being worked out. But Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore, continuing the unity theme, said it's likely the local governments most directly impacted by the canyons Salt Lake County, Cottonwood Heights, Sandy, Alta and Salt Lake City would take the political lead in promoting the effort and coming up with funding.
Corroon already has set aside $100,000 for the EIS in his 2013 budget proposal for Salt Lake County, an expenditure still subject to County Council approval.
Because the mountain transportation study advocated for more mass transit in the canyons, the Utah Transit Authority most likely would be the lead agency, working with the Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency and the other federal departments on preparation of the document.
"The [EIS] will facilitate safe, convenient, attractive and reliable year-round transit access to and within the Cottonwood Canyons," the county-produced mountain transportation study said.
"The project may include fixed-guideway improvements (such as bus rapid transit, rail or aerial gondola) to connect the regional UTA transit system in the Salt Lake Valley to the recreation activities in the Cottonwood Canyons, and potentially to the recreation activities in the Park City and Summit County areas," the study said.
In the meantime, the study also recommended several short-term transportation improvements, such as increasing express bus service to Alta, increasing express bus service from the University of Utah to the canyons and giving high-occupancy vehicles priority in ski-area parking lots.
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P The purpose of the study is to:
Increase use of transit, decrease automobile use.
Improve connections between the canyons and the valley (and its regional transit network) to support the tourism and recreation economies.
Support watershed protection and management objectives.
Consider diverse recreation groups, including cyclists and pedestrians.
Minimize noise and impacts on views, air quality and wildlife habitat.
Construct a new park-and-ride lot near the existing gravel pit on Wasatch Boulevard.
Pave and stripe new parking near dispersed recreation areas.
Improve formal trailhead parking lots.
Restrict shoulder parking near Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Upgrade parking near Wasatch Boulevard and Fort Union Boulevard.
Mill Creek study
Participate in a summer pilot project looking at a shuttle system in the upper canyon.
Establish a real-time parking information system.
Provide uphill bike lanes.
Have advance warning signs and send out text-message alerts.