After Sunday’s crash shut down Big Cottonwood Canyon for hours, police issue new policy on road closures

The new plan should reduce the time that traffic must wait after a crash, but people are still advised to pack food and water in case of delays.

(Photo courtesy of Utah Department of Transportation) A two-vehicle crash on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, on State Route 190 in Big Cottonwood Canyon resulted in four injuries and shut down traffic in both directions.

Drivers on State Route 190 in Big Cottonwood Canyon were trapped in their cars for hours on Sunday afternoon after a crash shut down traffic in both directions.

A car and a pickup truck collided, causing both vehicles to fly down the steep embankment on the side of the road. Police and firefighters had to rescue the people in the cars and then retrieve the vehicles, and drivers were forced to wait in their cars until the site was clear.

After getting complaints about the road shutdown, the Unified Police Department announced Tuesday that in the future, traffic won’t be stopped to remove vehicles after a crash unless gasoline or oil is leaking into the watershed, which supplies the Salt Lake City area with drinking water. The decision was made with input from local ski resorts and the Utah Department of Transportation.

UPD spokeswoman Melody Cutler said part of the reason that Sunday’s crash took so long to clear was that people in the vehicles were seriously injured. She said there were five people who needed to be rescued, including two in critical condition.

“We aren’t going to leave people in their vehicles down the side of the mountain,” she said. “That rescue will always take priority over traffic.”

But even with the new plan, Cutler said people who drive in the mountains still need to be prepared for the possibility of road closures because of crashes or bad weather. People should have a full tank of gas, blankets, food and water when driving in the canyons, she said.

There is only one way in and out of the Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, meaning people can’t take alternative routes if they get stuck, said Cutler. She said bad weather and crashes can create a range of scenarios — like an avalanche that covered the road in Little Cottonwood Canyon last year — where people are stranded on the road for extended periods of time.