UDOT’s preferred alternative for easing the traffic congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC) is to build a gondola at a cost of over $500 million that would be paid by Utah taxpayers. I would argue, however, this is not the best answer to LCC’s traffic jams for the following reasons:
1. UDOT’s own criteria emphasize that the preferred alternative must benefit all users of the canyon. The gondola only benefits patrons of Alta and Snowbird and, not incidentally, the owners of these resorts who would be, in effect, receiving an enormous public subsidy.
2. The gondola towers would permanently deface the natural beauty of the canyon, diminishing the experience of all future visitors, including those who derive no benefit from the gondola.
3. The traffic delays and crowds foreseeable at the gondola base will cause many prospective users to drive instead.
4. Better and much cheaper alternatives exist that UDOT has not considered. One would be to implement alternate day access depending on whether a vehicle’s license plate number is even or odd. Another would be mandatory carpooling enabled by an app (similar to Uber’s) to match drivers and riders who would meet at a designated place near the bottom of the canyon. It’s understandable, although not in the public’s interest, that the ski resorts would object to such arrangements for fear they would reduce the number of skier-days.
5. However, the resorts, and all of us, must realize that the only way to save Little Cottonwood Canyon is to limit the number of people who use it. This should be done in an equitable way (i.e. not a toll).
6. Finally, it is short-sighted to spend half a billion public dollars on an industry whose economic importance will decline as our snowpack thins. By the time the gondola is finished, it is entirely possible that Utah will no longer be the ski destination that it has been in the past. Of course, the ski resorts refuse to consider this future. Whatever solution is adopted, it should minimally impact the experience of the canyon in case this future becomes reality. If the gondola is built, we will have permanently defaced the canyon and spent a huge sum of money for no purpose.
David Scheer, Salt Lake City