Gondolas? Tolls? Trains? Highway officials want your input on transportation fixes in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The ski slopes draws a steady stream to Big Cottonwood canyon during a recent weekend morning.

Do you favor charging tolls to help reduce traffic congestion in Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons? How about building new train lines there? Adding more buses? Do you like the idea of a gondola up the canyons? Or adding an extra lane to roads?

Officials say all those and other options are on the table as two new studies are gaining speed to look at the future of transportation in the canyons — and they are seeking public comment.

The website udot.utah.gov/cottonwoodcanyons has explanations of options under consideration and allows residents to file comments there through May 3. Also, an open house is scheduled Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Cottonwood Heights City Hall, 2277 E. Bengal Blvd.

Officials are working on the Little Cottonwood Canyon Environmental Impact Statement and the Cottonwood Canyons Transportation Plan to look at both canyons and nearby areas in the valley.

“The two efforts are really closely aligned,” said John Thomas, project manager for the Utah Department of Transportation.

Jesse Dean, deputy director of the Central Wasatch Commission, said they are building on 30 years of studies to try to figure out finally how to remedy congestion. Little Cottonwood Canyon alone sees 2.1 million visitors and 1.2 million trips a year.

“This is meant to further dive into and look at the alternatives and come to a decision that can then be implemented based on consensus from the public and the various stakeholders,” Thomas said.

Tolling in the canyons, allowed by the Legislature last year, is among options getting close scrutiny.

“Tolling is not just meant to be punitive,” Dean said, adding studies are trying to figure “what sort of a transportation system we want in these canyons and how could tolling play a role in some of the behaviors that we have,” perhaps to encourage more use of mass transit.

Thomas said trains are being studied. Back in the heyday of mining, a train went up Little Cottonwood Canyon all the way to Alta. But Thomas said it followed the creek bed, “and now that might be too impactful.”

Studies are also looking at adding snow sheds over canyon roads to protect them from avalanches — and avoid road closures for avalanche mitigation.

Also on the table as more affordable short-term solutions are expanding parking at some trailheads, widening or straightening roads at key locations and adding parking in the valley or restructuring it at ski resorts.