UDOT searching for Big, Little Cottonwood Canyon traffic solutions

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah — Light rail, gondolas and tolling stations are among possible solutions to ease heavily congested traffic in Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons.

After 30 years of study, state leaders are poised to make a decision soon.

Spring snow conditions don’t stop Lorri Belcher and Arleen Barrell from enjoying a few ski runs. Their biggest hassle is traffic congestion.

“Well it’s quite a nightmare,” Belcher said. “This winter it was particularly bad.”

UDOT estimates 2.1 million visitors enjoy Little Cottonwood Canyon per year.  During good ski weekends or bad weather, traffic routinely slows to a crawl.

“I can say I avoid it like the plague,” Barrell said.

Avalanches force canyon closures, increasing wait times to two hours or more.

“We have too much of a good thing,” Central Wasatch Commission deputy director Jesse Dean said.

If nothing is done now, Dean is certain it will only get worse.

“As you know, Utah’s population is booming," Dean said. "These recreation opportunities are right next to the largest metropolitan area in the state of Utah."

Organizers developing solutions have narrowed down options and expect to implement some as early as this summer.

Among the proposed solutions: adding another lane up Little Cottonwood Canyon, more reliable avalanche control, train alignments, gondolas and controversial tolling.

“It helps give drivers an option to make different choices,” said UDOT Project Manager John Thomas.

While it would cost Cottonwood Canyon users more, many people aren’t opposed to paying up to get down the canyon.

“Maybe not a large cost, but even in the summertime. Our canyons are fragile and we need to pay if we want to use them,” Barrell said.

Others argue drivers shouldn’t be the only ones opening their wallets.

“I have not heard in this whole discussion, one ski resort offering a solution or to help cover costs,” Belcher said.

UDOT is hosting an open house April 9 at Cottonwood Heights City Hall from 4-8 p.m. The public is welcome to review and comment on the proposed solution during that time. Official public comments can be emailed to littlecottonwoodeis@utah.gov or online at www.udot.utah.gov/littlecottonwoodeis.

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