Skip to main content

The City Journals

Canyons transportation open house draws crowds and opinions

May 08, 2019 03:20PM ● By Josh Wood

Residents lined up to talk about potential projects for the Cottonwood Canyons. (Joshua Wood/City Journals)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

Residents packed City Hall on April 9 for an open house detailing potential projects for improving access to the Cottonwood Canyons. Project managers and other representatives of UDOT, UTA, the US Forest Service and the Central Wasatch Commission presented a range of project possibilities. Residents were invited to give input on project ideas and to share what issues were most important to them.

Prior to the open house, UDOT adjusted its environmental impact statement (EIS) for Wasatch Boulevard to focus on things like trailhead parking, avalanche mitigation and traffic congestion. “We are looking at transportation solutions in the Cottonwood Canyons,” said John Thomas of UDOT. “We’re looking at a wide range of alternatives including mountain transportation, which includes rail, gondola, buses. We’re also looking at adding a third lane in Little Cottonwood and what that effect might be and whether it would be beneficial or not.”

Officials at the open house said they were also trying to understand how people use the canyons and what their priorities are. The lack of amenities like restrooms and information for hiking trails in the canyons was one issue cited for improvement.

“As a body, the Central Wasatch Commission will be evaluating and ranking different improvements over different timelines,” Thomas said. “Some actions might be done this summer, some might be done in a couple or three years, and some might be done in the next 10 or 20 years. So we’re trying to understand what improvements over what timeline are most important.”

Issues cited by officials as requiring more immediate attention included critical drinking water and protecting the watershed. UDOT put a longer timeline on transportation solutions.

Meanwhile, some in attendance were skeptical of the solutions presented and the process altogether.

“We’re getting things backwards,” said Pat Shea, who serves on an advisory committee for Friends of Alta. “We’re getting an EIS on the highway, but we’re not looking at the overall environment. I’d like to see a fee for going up and down the canyons unless you’re a resident or an employee, like they’ve done in Millcreek, and keep the money in the canyons to protect our watershed. That’s the most important thing we’ve got there.”

Concerns about protecting the watershed were voiced by a number of people in attendance. Others expressed frustration with the process. “There is no solution,” said one resident who wished to remain anonymous. “All the program managers just want to advocate for their project. There is no advocate for people like me who say to do nothing.”

As evidenced by the range of opinions expressed by residents, the complexity of the issues was apparent during the open house. While some supported the idea of more frequent busing in and out of the canyons, others questioned if it would be feasible to have enough buses available on powder days during ski season.

Some residents pushed for straightforward solutions they thought could help address issues like traffic congestion. “It seems to me they need to enforce the snow tire laws,” said a longtime resident of Cottonwood Heights. “You do that, and you get rid of the traffic jams. We keep getting stuck behind cars with the wrong tires. You’ve got to enforce the tires.”

Despite the conflicting opinions, officials were happy with attendance at the open house. “The turnout is great, especially given the weather,” said Lindsey Nielsen of the Central Wasatch Commission. “We didn’t know what to expect, so we’re pleased with this.”

Officials stressed the importance of the open house and the role of resident input. “The open house is really critical,” said Thomas. “This is really the compilation of 30 years of work. We want to put that all out on the table for everybody, and it’s critical to get their input. Their input becomes part of the process, and we can evaluate that to understand different issues associated with it.”

Shea was not so sure. “I think it’s a prelude to a train and building a tunnel so they’ll have something new for the Olympics.”

Stormy weather didn’t keep residents from lining up to ask questions and share their opinions. They talked with representatives of UDOT, UTA, the Forest Service and Central Wasatch Commission and tried to make their voices heard over the din of the crowd.