Utah’s natural beauty is one of our state’s greatest attributes. Utah’s mountains are home to famous powder, which is recognized world-wide and treasured by our residents and tourists alike. How we manage the transportation of the public as they ski, hike, bike, camp and venture out into Utah’s environments, both urban and rural, is critical to our state. At this point, preserving our natural wonders means taking bold and innovative steps.
We, as Utahns, want to continue to share our great four-season mountain areas with our families, friends and visitors. Sharing these environments comes with great responsibility and a need for preservation focused decision making, which proves to be increasingly vital while planning for manageable growth.
According to the state of Utah’s travel industry report by the Kem Gardner Institute, travel and tourism is one of Utah’s top 10 industries, supporting one in 11 Utah jobs and generating over a billion dollars in state and local tax revenue annually. Our shared efforts to move and manage outdoor enthusiasts, hospitality workforce and local residents accessing the natural wonders in Utah should consider the economic driver along with a responsible review of the consequential environmental impacts of those decisions.
Currently, much like many of Utah’s popular state and national parks, which have seen record breaking numbers of visitors, Little Cottonwood Canyon is also in overwhelm. This unique canyon receives more than 2 million visitors per year, with approximately 7,000 vehicle trips every day. The cars, trucks and buses traverse a canyon road known as the most avalanche-prone highway in North America. Additionally, the much beloved canyon is a protected watershed area that travelers, as well as a substantial hospitality workforce, drive to access two of our most visited ski and summer resorts, campgrounds, and trails.
Looking forward into the future, we have assumed the electric grid system will continue to use less intensive greenhouse gas sources making electrified transportation truly zero emission from source well to wheels. The continued revolutions with all modes of transportation will include innovative fuel sources using more renewables in the form of electric, biofuels and acceleration with hydrogen.
For Little Cottonwood Canyon, the proposed gondola system offers unique solutions that outweigh other alternatives and could revolutionize transportation to smart mobility modeling by moving people, addressing the workforce and recreationist volumes at the same time, by utilizing a looping gondola system with a year-round schedule.
A gondola addresses the traffic and congestion issues created by the narrow roadway, while also offering a clean, quiet, off-the ground choice that reduces the amount of current emissions released into the air and roadside water systems. The steep geography and traction issues of the canyon require specialized transport, widening the road and building avalanche tunnels to meet demands.
A similar Utah-based success story of transitioning a transportation system from individual cars to buses and shuttles is exemplified by Zion National Park. Over 20 years ago the award-winning propane shuttle system was implemented to lessen the impact and traffic in parts of scenic Zion Canyon. Previous to the shuttle system, congestion, pollution, and noise ruled the park likening it to an urban city, not a pristine national park. The development and deployment of a clean, propane-powered fleet was a groundbreaking concept changing visitor experiences for the better.
Zion continues to innovate with a commitment to full, zero-emission electric shuttles and buses, continuing to preserve the valuable cultural, geologic and biological resources while providing safe, sustainable, and cost-efficient access for visitors’ experiences and enjoyment.
It is time for innovation in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It is time to look ahead, build state-of-the art technology and make the decisions now— ensuring the best outcome for the next generation. We know the current road-based solution in the canyon has failed and we have been experiencing it for decades. Just as Zion’s shuttle transportation system removed more than 4,000 vehicles daily in Zion National Park, a gondola transportation system can take thousands off the road and transform Little Cottonwood Canyon into an elevated choice.
Tammie Bostick leads Utah Clean Cities Coalition as executive director with a passion for clean fuels, clean air and clean strategies.