If you are one of the many powder hounds along the Wasatch Front, you may soon have to pay if you are driving up Little Cottonwood Canyon.
After releasing the final draft of the canyon’s environmental impact study (EIS) that ruled a gondola would be the best solution for Little Cottonwood Canyon’s transportation issues, Utah Department of Transportation officials found that tolling could be a short-term solution to the canyon’s traffic snarls.
On Tuesday, Josh Van Jura, a project manager at UDOT, told the Salt Lake County Council the department is considering a toll of $25 to $30 per private vehicle driving up the canyon.
However, Van Jura said the toll would only be in place on busy ski days within certain times, and it would not be year-round or even every day in the ski season.
He said the toll would only be for drivers who want to go to Snowbird — one of two ski resorts in Little Cottonwood — and farther into the canyon. Those who want to visit the canyon before that point would not have to pay the toll.
“This is only 50 days a year; this is 7:30 in the morning to 10:30 in the morning,” Van Jura told the council Tuesday. “So again, very targeted and only for those people that are going to Snowbird entry one or above.”
Van Jura presented the council with an overview of UDOT’s August decision to recommend a gondola for the canyon. The presentation came a week after the County Council narrowly passed a resolution 5-4 condemning the gondola. Salt Lake City passed a similar resolution the following day.
The county’s resolution asked UDOT that the gondola option be “eliminated from consideration” from UDOT’s record of decision. Van Jura said during the Tuesday meeting that he hoped UDOT’s decision would be finalized before the end of the next ski season.
Tolling was one of the shorter-term solutions that UDOT recommended should be enacted before the gondola, which will likely take years to complete — if it is completed at all. Additional interim solutions include expanded bus services and the construction of nearby mobility hubs.
Laurie Stringham, the council’s chair, asked Van Jura about people who want to recreate past Snowbird — adding her family has previously gone snowshoeing or sledding past Snowbird. Van Jura said anyone in that position would need to recreate outside those peak periods to avoid the toll, telling Stringham that her family could go up before or after the tolling period.
“So essentially, go up at 11 a.m. on a Saturday rather than 9 a.m.,” Van Jura said.
Elected officials still voiced their opposition to UDOT’s gondola decision. Council member Richard Snelgrove said he still does not believe the gondola would live up to its $550 million price tag, saying he thinks it will exceed $1 billion.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, a staunch gondola opponent, was moved to tears during the meeting when she recalled how her father established one of the first rock climbing lines in Little Cottonwood in the 1960s. She said the gondola towers would greatly impact the climbing community if built.
The council took no votes Tuesday regarding the gondola or the canyon, as time was set aside only for UDOT’s presentation.
As of Tuesday, UDOT is still accepting public comment on the draft EIS. Members of the public are encouraged to go to www.littlecottonwoodeis.udot.utah.gov to submit their comments. The comment period ends Monday just before midnight.