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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Town hall shared potential solutions to ski traffic

Oct 24, 2019 12:46PM ● By Josh Wood

Residents discussed ideas for addressing canyons traffic congestion during recent town hall. (Joshua Wood/City Journals)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

Ideas for addressing traffic gridlock in the Cottonwood Canyons continued to wind their way through the planning process with a town hall on Oct. 7. The Cottonwood Heights City Council hosted the town hall meeting to present a range of possible solutions derived from meetings held earlier in the year. They also listened to public input and heard some ideas that were not on their list of solutions.

“It’s a real collaboration,” Mayor Mike Peterson said. “I’ve been really impressed with how it’s been progressing.”

City Manager Tim Tingey shared a number of options that planners have considered, from policy changes to infrastructure projects. One of the items in the city’s presentation focused on making sure vehicles entering the canyons on snow days are properly equipped for the winter roads. This would include greater enforcement of snow tire and chain regulations. Tingey also discussed the idea of working with rental car companies to make sure the vehicles they rent to skiers are properly equipped.

A major theme of the meeting, from both city officials and residents, was improving busing up and down the canyons. “It’s related to consistency of bus service, frequency of bus service and efficiency of bus service,” Tingey said. Ideas included consolidation of resort bus stops, police escorts for buses, bypass lanes and bus redesign. Tingey also discussed UTA making sure its seasonal schedule changes coincide with ski resort calendars.

Another idea included establishing staging areas for trading out buses that break down as a way to reduce traffic impediments in the canyons. “Instead of having a bus go clear back to the UTA garage, there’s a quicker transition for buses that break down and get that replaced,” Tingey said.

Residents in attendance offered input ranging from frustrations with canyon traffic to other possible solutions for the city and planning commission to consider.

Jim Rock of Cottonwood Heights talked about the limitations of bus capacity on snow days. “I tell my renters if it’s a weekend or snow day and it’s busy, forget taking the bus,” Rock said. “When you have a lot of snow, you have more people going up the canyon.” This was a sentiment shared by many in attendance — that bus service on peak ski days is inadequate.

An alternate sentiment among residents at the town hall was that planners should keep things in perspective. “I hope that we don’t just simply try to find solutions that are based on a really exceptional snow year that we’ve had,” said resident Dan Mills. “If we go back in the last 30 years, I don’t know if that’s indicative of what the future holds.” Other residents echoed that thought that peak ski days represent fewer than 30 days a year, while population growth affects rush hour traffic all year long.

Meanwhile, a range of ideas were shared by residents for addressing canyons traffic during ski season. One resident floated the idea of establishing car pool locations for people to take on additional riders before driving to the resorts.

Ellen Birrell of Cottonwood Heights read a petition signed by 36 residents who had met prior to the town hall to discuss ideas. Their petition listed five items for the council to consider, including “no through access” signs posted at the entrances of all neighborhoods along Wasatch Boulevard and greater police presence to help regulate traffic flow on snow days.

“The key thing that we believe would increase bus ridership would be for UTA to have direct bus routes for each of the resorts,” Birrell said. “Why not direct buses so people could get on an Alta bus or a Brighton bus instead of Big Cottonwood or Little Cottonwood Canyon?”

Peterson said $13 million had been allocated by the state legislature to the city for land acquisition near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon to construct a transportation hub.

“One thing we do not want to see, in my opinion, is a whole myriad of park and rides along Wasatch Boulevard that’s going to add to the congestion,” Peterson said. “Finding a way to incentivize people to get out of their cars, make it easy, make it quick, get on a bus, and that bus is going to pass any cars sitting there on Wasatch Boulevard.”

There was also input from residents about how ski traffic affects non-skiers. “Have we proposed a way to get my kids to school on ski days?” asked Micki Harris. “They won’t let you in, they’re so ski happy. I was just wondering if there was a way for residents or kids to get to school, kind of everyday stuff.”