Opinion: How UDOT’s gondola is undermining our democracy

Such a disregard for the opinions of taxpaying citizens is a clear demonstration of a flawed democracy.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Little Cottonwood Canyon on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023.

I have always believed that any functioning government should first and foremost abide by the will of its people. As the oldest democracy in the world, one could assume that the United States government would be exemplary in this regard, but time and time again this has not been the case.

There are multitudes of instances that I could point to in order to showcase the many flaws of American democracy, but I would rather instead highlight a local issue that exemplifies this rampant disregard for public concern: the construction of the Little Cottonwood gondola.

This beautiful canyon is one of the most iconic in the Salt Lake valley. Loved by many locals and visited by countless tourists, no wonder the issue of transportation up and down Little Cottonwood has become a highly debated topic.

In a democracy, you would expect the decision making process to take into account the concerns of the people who not only use this land but will also be paying for this project with their tax dollars. However, this has not been the case.

Ever since the start of this process, UDOT has been claiming to be considering the opinions of the public when it comes to the final decision, opening public comment periods and making their final selection based on public input, according to the Record of Decision (ROD) released on July 12. A quick glance at any of the public comments directed towards UDOT regarding the gondola option shows that this could not be further from the truth.

An astounding 13,443 comments were made within a little over a month, from Sep. 2, 2022 to Oct. 17, 2022, with the vast majority showing a strong opposition to the gondola option. A survey of 13,069 comments was conducted by the “Students for the Wasatch” organization in which they found 88.58% of these were opposed to the gondola alternative.

Although the occasional comment supporting this option does exist, they are overwhelmingly buried under multitudes of comments voicing the opposite. There are sections of this document with pages after pages of comments objecting against the gondola without a single one supporting it. This makes it clear that the vast majority of the public are against this option.

And yet, this has not stopped UDOT from making their final decision to choose the Gondola B alternative for Little Cottonwood Canyon, against the opinions of thousands of residents and canyon users. This blatant disregard of public input for this decision is made even more egregious when considering the fact that the people who wrote these comments to UDOT will also likely be paying for this ridiculously expensive project — the already hefty price tag of $550 million having nearly doubled to $955 million in only a year, according to UDOT director Josh Van Jura.

Such a disregard for the opinions of taxpaying citizens is a clear demonstration of a flawed democracy. It is inexcusable that a project like this can be developed without ever considering the approval of the people who use this area and are funding it themselves.

While it is on a local scale, this is the same type of “taxation without representation” that caused the tension which gave birth to the oldest democracy in the world, the same one where this is now taking place.

In this day and age it has become far too easy to lose faith in the government, and projects like this are exactly why. I know I am not the only one who feels this same dissatisfaction, and not just on the state level as it can be seen here but in all levels of government. If this gondola is built, against the wishes of the very people who use the canyon and will pay for the project, who knows how far the next projects will go? How many more times does the will of the people have to be ignored by the very institutions that are meant to serve them?

This country is supposed to be a beacon of democracy and freedom and often touts itself as such, but this disregard in public concern shown by UDOT is just another example of the United States trampling all over its own citizens.

Célestin Philippe

Célestin Philippe is a University of Utah student who has lived in Salt Lake City for 11 years. Born in France, his love for the Wasatch Mountains is what keeps him in the valley.

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