A new UDOT sticker program could help ease Cottonwoods traffic

Cottonwood Heights • Stopping cars to check for chains or proper snow tires on days with restrictions in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons now creates long lines and congestion. But the Utah Department of Transportation is experimenting with a way to help reduce that.

It is allowing canyon residents, ski resort employees and UDOT workers to have their cars pre-inspected to prove that they have proper tires with sufficient tread. They receive a sticker on their windshield that allows them to zip through inspection points and cut down lines.

“This is just a pilot program for now,” UDOT spokesman John Gleason said, adding that up to 5,000 vehicles may participate. “We’ll see how well it works, and how we may want to expand it.”

Gleason said that in the future, it could lead to special lanes for pre-inspected cars to help speed traffic. Eventually, UDOT may allow anyone to choose to have their cars pre-inspected at UDOT or police facilities at scheduled times.

“Right now, we just doing what we think we can handle,” he said.

(Lee Davidson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Unified Police and Utah Department of Transportation officials do a quick "pre-inspection" to ensure a car has needed snow tires to drive in the canyons. It receives a windshield sticker to allow it to zip through regular inspection points, as part of a pilot program.

People eligible for the new pilot program lined up at a UDOT maintenance garage in Cottonwood Heights on Wednesday during one of the scheduled times when pre-inspections are available for them now.

Inspections were quick, usually taking 30 seconds to a minute — including handing in paperwork and receiving a sticker.

On snow restriction days, UDOT requires two-wheel drive vehicles to have chains or “three peak mountain snowflake" tires, which Gleason said have a special insignia. Four-wheel drive vehicles are required to have at least “M+S” all season tires.

Currently, UDOT and Unified Police do spot inspections at the mouth of canyons on days with restrictions and stop cars that look like they lack the proper equipment for a closer look.

“You just can’t stop every car. It creates lines that are too long,” Gleason said.

He adds that means some cars without proper equipment occasionally get through the checkpoints.

“They are the ones that often slide off the road and tie up things,” he said. “We often have to tow them out. We want to prevent that.”

He said separating out pre-inspected cars may help give a better look at others to weed out cars that should not be on the canyon roads.

Gleason said that at the end of the ski season, UDOT and Unified Police will review how well the program works and figure how to tweak or expand it.