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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Beating the traffic: How Utah entities are trying to maximize your time on the slopes

Mar 05, 2019 01:59PM ● By Cassie Goff

Winter canyon traffic is a problem many entities within the state are trying to solve. (Utah Adventure Journal)

By Cassie Goff | cassie@mycityjournals.com

The morning after a heavy snowstorm, a good “powder day” (to use the appropriate lingo), is when everyone is excited to get up the canyon to test out the snow under their metallic foot extensions. If you’re an avid skier or snowboarder (or an employee of the canyon resorts, or if you live along Wasatch Boulevard), you know what comes next in this story. Traffic. With everyone trying to race up the canyons, it’s bumper-to-bumper trying to get off the freeway, through the neighborhoods of Cottonwood Heights, and onto the two-lane canyon roads. 

Many entities within the state are attempting to solve the canyon traffic issues. The resorts (Alta, Solitude, Snowbird and Brighton) have implemented short-term solutions like pushing scheduled avalanche control to earlier in the mornings. The Central Wasatch Commission (CWC) has been collaboratively discussing solutions with other entities. Cottonwood Heights has developed a Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan. The Utah Transportation Authority (UTA) has been brainstorming alternative transportation options while the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has been working to develop an environmental impact solution. Many legislatures have even expressed concern over the canyon traffic. 

On Feb. 5, Snowbird Representative Dave Fields discussed traffic and parking in the canyons with the Cottonwood Heights City Council. He relayed information about some implemented efforts that have proven to be successful, some works in progress, and brought up some additional concerns. 

Snowbird has been promoting many rideshare programs. Since last year, these programs have proven to be successful in achieving their goal as ridesharing has increased 20 to 30 percent. “We have done everything we can to get people into busses. Snowbird pays for all employees and season-pass holders to ride the bus,” Fields said. 

In addition, two van programs have been rolled out. One program incentivizes businesses to rent vans for their employees to share. There are 22 department vans available daily in the winter. The other program works to offset UTA’s bus schedule. Fourteen vans per day take trips up and down the canyon to promote carpooling. “We bundle a ride up the canyon with lodging and ski tickets,” Fields reported. “Last year, we had 25,000 trips in these vans. Other resorts have started doing this as well.”  

A new phone app is in development to incentivize guest and employee carpool as well. It will be free to download and use, and it will be scaled to the other resorts so visitors can use the app regardless of where they’re headed in the canyons. “You get points for carpooling, accrue credit for rides and get points for riding the bus or rideshare vans. You can then earn prizes like water bottles, or half-price tickets,” Fields said. 

Additionally, Snowbird is promoting more public communication through social media. “We are trying to do a better job to let people know what is happening on the road. All it takes is one ill-prepared vehicle. It slides off the road, and everything comes to a halt,” said Fields. 

Ill-prepared vehicles is one of the main concerns Fields hopes to address through conversations with municipal entities. Travelers arriving at the Salt Lake City Airport, for instance, cannot rent cars with snow tires from the airport. 

As Snowbird has been working to address traffic from the top of the canyon down, Cottonwood Heights has been working from the bottom up with the drafting of a Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan. 

“It was a fairly comprehensive process which involved city staff and a consultant. We spent time looking at the history of the corridor, with all the historical background, and engaged the public in a process that sought feedback to understand community feedback and goals with the corridor,” said City Engineer Brad Gilson on Jan. 22. 

The plan includes alternative transportation modes, connectivity into the neighborhoods, interconnectivity through trails and promoting fewer cars on the road. 

“It’s a great template that helps us as a city communicate to UDOT what the city would like and the city’s values,” Gilson said. 

Since Wasatch Boulevard is ultimately owned by UDOT, they will have the final say deciding how to handle the traffic issue. They have taken their own approach to solve the issue with the Little Cottonwood Canyon Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This project was first introduced in spring 2018, with the timeline pushed out to conclude in winter 2021. They are currently seeking public input. To learn more about the EIS or submit feedback, visit http://www.udot.utah.gov/littlecottonwoodeis