Robert Gehrke: We’ll build a $728 million gondola so the rich can play. It’s The Utah Way.

As Utahns, we couldn’t stand by while wealthy skiers suffered. We had an obligation to help ease their pain, Robert Gehrke writes.

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

Like a basketball game against the Harlem Globetrotters or a golf match against Kim Jong Il, the outcome was never in doubt.

Once the idea of building the longest gondola on planet Earth up a spectacular, treasured canyon was proposed we saw Utah’s Holy Trinity — power, money and influence — get on board, and everything that happened after was purely entertainment and distraction.

It’s the Eighth Plunder of The World.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

But what else were we supposed to do? We had tried practically nothing else — no more buses, no tolling, no carpooling requirements. Tolling and expanded bus service, both of which were discussed for years and could have eased the congestion and forestalled the need for the gondola, will finally be implemented two years from now.

But the big decision has already been made. We couldn’t have these important people with their $2,000 ski jackets and $1,800 skis stuck in their $80,000 SUVs inconvenienced and kept from their weekend of carving pow.

We are Utahns, after all. When we see that kind of suffering, we have a moral obligation to ease their pain.

Ease their pain. Go the distance. If you build it, they will shred.

So we will build it. All of us. We will pony up to help construct this engineering marvel. It doesn’t matter if you live in Brigham City and have never strapped on a ski in your life, or if you are from Ogden and would prefer to hit the slopes at Snowbasin, or if you’re from Salt Lake City and can’t afford a roof over your head, or if you’re from Kanab and are wondering if you’ll have water five years from now.

It doesn’t matter that, by unofficial counts, a sizable majority of the people who commented on the gondola plan don’t want it.

We will all pay the $728 million price tag.

It sounds like a lot of money, because, well, it is.

With that kind of money, we could hire thousands of mental health crisis responders, provide free fare on UTA for the next 14 years, subsidize rents for hundreds of thousands of low-income Utahns or pay for 160,000 free years of community college education.

All that assumes the cost doesn’t increase again by several hundred million dollars.

This, however, is about priorities and, as a state, ours are clear.

We will put our money into the profits of developers and land speculators who stand to make a fortune from the recreational enjoyment of wealthy winter warriors who absolutely must get to the top of the mountain (even if they will get there slowly; the gondola will take longer to move people to the resorts than expanded bus service would).

If you prefer to enjoy the canyon other ways, maybe camping, cycling or hiking, or maybe you’re a rock climber who will see some prized areas impacted, don’t be bitter about the 200-foot-tall towers and the miles of cable and the cars with people looking down on you, figuratively and literally.

Your financial, aesthetic and recreational sacrifices have all been worth it, because you have made it possible for these VIPs to glide effortlessly and comfortably to their destination. More than that, you have been a part of advancing Utah’s warped priorities and furthering Utah values.

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