Alta doesn’t need the gondola, Town Council decides, urging UDOT to consider other ideas

The town’s new resolution requests that the Utah Department of Transportation arrange a new environmental evaluation, conducted by a third-party agency.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) People walk down the driveway at the Wildcat base at Alta Ski Area, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. The Alta Town Council passed a resolution on Wednesday urging the Utah Department of Transportation to suspend its consideration of a gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The Town of Alta urged the Utah Department of Transportation to suspend its consideration of a gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon during a town council meeting on Wednesday.

UDOT authorized the 8-mile gondola plan in July. Since then, it’s been the subject of three separate lawsuits — and last month, four environmental groups that are named as plaintiffs in the suit lobbied the Alta Town Council to formally oppose the gondola.

In a resolution passed on Wednesday, the town council cited concerns with UDOT’s evaluation of the gondola’s environmental impacts — similar to allegations outlined in the lawsuits against the gondola. The council then urged the agency to conduct a “more rigorous and transparent” evaluation of Little Cottonwood Canyon’s environment.

But Alta would like to see that evaluation conducted by a third-party instead, to “ensure public trust” in the outcome, according to the resolution.

“First of all, we are eternally grateful for UDOT for keeping ourselves safe, keeping our roads open... this kind of declares UDOT best friend forever, in the first part,” Alta Mayor Roger Bourke said Wednesday. “Second, it says there are a lot of things we can do — both covered in the EIS [environmental impact statement] and not covered in the EIS ... that would really help our traffic flow. And third [it] says, we don’t need the gondola.”

[Read more: A timeline of the Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola]

Although the council wants UDOT to reconsider the gondola construction, it supports the steps outlined in phases 1 and 2 of UDOT’s plans for Little Cottonwood Canyon — which include increased bus service and tolling, along with road improvements to Wasatch Boulevard.

But UDOT must collect data during those two phases to share with the public and justify why the gondola would still be needed, the town council wrote in the resolution.

As the agency works through the litigation process, UDOT will continue to look for opportunities to implement improvements to the canyon, spokesperson John Gleason wrote in a statement.

However, UDOT maintains that the gondola is still the ideal choice to reduce traffic and reliably move people in Little Cottonwood Canyon, while also having a “low environmental impact.”

“We value our working relationship with the Town of Alta and appreciate that the Town supports increased bus service and building snow sheds outlined in Phases I and II,” Gleason wrote. “While increased bus service and snow sheds help address today’s problems, the gondola was determined to be the best long-term solution.”

(Utah Department of Transportation) A rendering of a proposed gondola near Snowbird Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The town council also suggested that the agency use remaining recreational hotspot funding — which allocated $100 million to Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon in 2017 — to study and implement other options that weren’t included in the agency’s solutions for State Route 210.

These other options included expanding traction device enforcement, selective lane closures and restoring Utah Transit Authority ski bus service, according to the resolution.

Alta Ski Area general manager Mike Maughan said he had a meeting with UDOT representatives, and they seemed “more amenable than they have ever been” to stricter traction law enforcement.

He added that a bill sponsored this session by Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R- Sandy, provided funding that could allow a stricter traction law system by next ski season.

Alta’s resolution was sent to UDOT, agencies that worked on UDOT’s Little Cottonwood Canyon environmental impact statement, nearby municipalities and the town’s legislative representatives.

“There are lots of things that could be done, that will improve and are not too expensive and are flexible — in the sense that if it doesn’t doesn’t work, change it to something that does work,” Bourke said. “One of my greatest objections to the gondola is it is absolutely inflexible. To build this billion-dollar structure, you can’t tinker with it — it’s there.”