Opinion: There are many common sense solutions to canyon transportation. A gondola is not one of them.

Let your legislators know how you want your transportation dollars to be spent.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Signs on the roadways to Little Cottonwood Canyon oppose the UDOT gondola project, Friday, July 14, 2023.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has filed a decision to build a gondola — with 22 terribly out of place, industrial looking towers — running the length of Little Cottonwood Canyon. UDOT is asking the Legislature to both bill all Utahns to pay for this very elite ski resort ride and to then charge anyone to ride it.

When the gondola is completed, all buses would be canceled in the canyon, putting even more people than currently drive, back into private vehicles on the congested road. The gondola will start at the bottom of the canyon at a private base adjoining an expensive restaurant plaza to then stop nowhere but at two private, elite ski resorts. This is not public transportation, instead, this is a private enterprise being funded with public money. The Phase 1 enhanced bus system is designed to reduce traffic by 30%, the buses will be removed if the gondola is completed in Phase 3. The gondola is also designed to reduce traffic by 30%, the same as the buses at a much higher cost.

In recent conversations with people in Grand, Tooele and Utah counties, I learned more of what my fellow Utahns think about their mandate to pay for this gondola intended for a very limited number of skiers, not your average Utahn.

Most had not heard of the gondola, and all I spoke with were unhappy that $1 billion of their taxes could be going to such an exclusive project when they would prefer that their tax money stay local for “building better roads, making the city more inclusive for kids and providing more local housing … Overall, [paying for the gondola] would be another slap in the face if they were taxed again for something that doesn’t involve them.” according to Cozette Caron, a Payson resident, who was also summarizing her Moab relatives’ reactions.

It is unconscionable to require every member of every town, county, tribe and hamlet throughout Utah to pay for this gondola. Unrestrained industrial tourism devouring local communities is a national problem. Ask any Moabite.

The Mayors of Sandy and Salt Lake City and the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and Sandy, among others, have recognized the substantive and procedural inadequacies of UDOT’s proposal and filed lawsuits to pause the rush to implement such a poor decision. We will soon hear UDOT’s rebuttal, due Feb. 5. The legal questions will be sorted in court, however, the unconscionable charging of the entire state’s population $1 billion for the entertainment of the elite is up to our Utah legislators to fund or not fund as they listen to their unhappy constituents.

There are many common sense solutions to canyon transportation, such as parking reservations, that are working quite well to reduce morning canyon traffic this winter, according to UPD’s January report to the Big Cottonwood Canyon Community Council.

Cottonwood Heights Mayor Weichers and the City Council are unanimously opposed to the gondola for many reasons and they suggest that UDOT employ enhanced electric buses and create a robust transit system placing multiple parking lots out in the valley such that private vehicles do not even approach the canyons.

If UTA cannot fulfill the need, perhaps a private bus or shuttle company collects skiers (with reservations) throughout the valley and then takes them all the way to the ski resorts in both of the Cottonwood Canyons, with other bus routes delivering visitors to Park City.

A functional, interconnected valley-wide transit system will also help us to prepare for the next Salt Lake Olympics. A gondola will be extraneous to the Olympics because neither the Salt Lake Organizing Committee nor the International Olympic Committee will allow events in the Cottonwood Canyons.

Gondola proponents claim the gondola will be the no-emissions ride to the ski resorts, conveniently obscuring that 79% of Utah’s electricity comes from coal and natural gas power plants that frequently blanket our national parks such as Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef with dirty air.

Ride the bus, and let your legislators know how you want your transportation dollars to be spent!

(Kirk Nichols) In a guest commentary for The Salt Lake Tribune, University of Utah professor Kirk Nichols writes that “Utahns can — and must — help the federal government improve public land management.”

Kirk Nichols’ family has been in Utah as legislators, doctors, nurses, educators, ranchers and in the mining industry for more than 175 years. Kirk was formerly a seasonal Forest Service ecologist and is currently a professor of Outdoor Recreation Studies at the University of Utah.

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