Add Salt Lake City to the growing list of governments against a Little Cottonwood gondola

Latest vote comes after the Salt Lake County Council voted against the proposal, too, but Sandy City Council members are urging others to hold off on taking a position until UDOT completes its work.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Little Cottonwood Canyon on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. The Salt Lake City Council has voted against UDOT's plan to build a gondola there to ease crammed traffic.

Mere hours after Salt Lake County officials voted to condemn a proposal to build a gondola through Little Cottonwood Canyon, the Salt Lake City Council added its voice to the chorus of opposition.

City Council members unanimously approved a joint resolution Tuesday with Mayor Erin Mendenhall urging the removal of the gondola as an option to solve the canyon’s continued congestion woes.

The council did not discuss the resolution in its meeting.

“Last night’s joint resolution was a reaction to what I feel is a lack of thorough review for environmental impacts,” Mendenhall said in a statement Wednesday, “with one of Salt Lake City’s chief concerns being negative effects on our watershed.”

In August, the Utah Department of Transportation concluded that a gondola would be the best solution for the canyon’s transportation crush.

The city’s resolution calls on UDOT to use “a lower impact, adaptive approach” to transportation issues in the canyon to protect a vital watershed that supplies water to more than 450,000 county residents.

The gondola comes with a hefty minimum price tag of $550 million, the resolution notes, serves only two private ski resorts, creates an additional transportation route, has limited flexibility as fixed infrastructure, and has not shown it can reduce the number of vehicles that travel the canyon each hour during peak times.

The resolution contends the environmental study failed to effectively consider many of the risks to water resources that the city raised throughout the process, including those associated with the construction and operation of the gondola, and the strain of increased visitation to the watershed.

“From my perspective,” Mendenhall said, “we should be prioritizing much more investment in the Salt Lake Valley itself to respond to transportation, transit and air quality issues.”

Council Chair Dan Dugan said the canyons are vital to Salt Lake City as a water supply. The council, he said, has an obligation to take care of residents’ health and quality of life, and be good stewards of the environment.

“We really feel,” he said, “that the gondola fails in that arena.”

The council’s decision came on the heels of the County Council approving a similar resolution in 5-4 vote after hearing nearly an hour of anti-gondola public comment.

Ahead of the county-level vote, five members of the Sandy City Council sent an email to the County Council, urging it not to pass the resolution condemning the gondola.

The Sandy leaders — Brooke D’Sousa, Scott Earl, Marci Houseman, Cyndi Sharkey and Alison Stroud — said they wanted UDOT to fulfill its duty to recommend the best possible solution. Whether that recommendation gets funded and implemented, they wrote, comes later.

“If we as elected officials can’t depend upon UDOT to give us their best expert advice, or worse, if we signal to them that we don’t want to hear it, are we fulfilling our obligations to our constituents?” they wrote. “We members of the Sandy City Council ask that you stand with us in allowing UDOT to complete their work unimpeded by political messaging.”

Dustin Fratto, executive director of the Sandy City Council, said the council has not adopted any resolutions or made any formal statements of its opinion about the gondola and, as far as he knows, has no plans to do so.

Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Weichers said in a text message Wednesday that his city’s council will take up a gondola resolution at its next meeting.

“I believe we’ll get a unanimous vote,” he said, “against the gondola option.”

The public may submit comments on the proposal to UDOT through Oct. 17. To comment, visit littlecottonwoodeis.udot.utah.gov.

The department is due to finalize its decision sometime this winter.