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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Cottonwood Heights opposes gondola

Nov 01, 2022 07:14PM ● By Cassie Goff

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

This article continues coverage of Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT)’s announcement regarding their preferred preference of Gondola B within Little Cottonwood Canyon as part of their Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

After learning UDOT’s preferred plan would be to develop a gondola within Little Cottonwood Canyon, many residents voiced their opposition to the Cottonwood Heights City Council. Their hope was that the city would have a louder voice than individual residents.  

“You guys can stand up to them,” said 15-year-old Alta High School student Roman Fisher. “Who is to say UDOT will even listen to people? I love the natural beauty of that canyon. I can’t even vote yet and other people are speaking for me.”

“It’s an environmental injustice,” said 17-year-old Alta High School student Lucy Piper. “I go up that canyon all the time, and I do not want to see towers. There is so much more we need to take into consideration.”

“Reducing the amount of vehicles is truly the answer,” said Corner Canyon High School senior Naya West. “Find alternative solutions that do not have such permanent results to the canyon.”

“The students are showing up in droves,” said Canyons School District teacher Zoe Hardy. “They are showing up angry. Students of mine are watching and participating in policy in a very young range. It’s important that they see their frustrations recognized.”

“Residents are so helpless and frustrated,” said Mickey Harris. “We are happy to share our canyons and community, but not at this expense. We do feel disrespected. Take our voice to get louder and stronger.”

While listening to each public comment regarding the gondola and canyon transportation, the city councilmembers urged residents to submit their comments to UDOT as well. The City of Cottonwood Heights did the same.

“The gondola option is not making sense with the impacts to our community,” said City Manager Tim Tingey. “There has not been priority to us as the community most impacted.”  

Before the public comment period closed on Oct. 17, Cottonwood Heights submitted a letter in opposition of Gondola B. The letter re-emphasized the city’s main points of opposition that seemed to remain unaddressed before elaborating on more recent points of concern.

“We have consistently and strongly opposed the gondola alternative,” Tingey said. “At every point in the process we have re-emphasized what our position is.”

In previous conversations with UDOT (including a five-page letter submitted during the prior public input process), Cottonwood Heights continually voiced their concerns related to: neighborhood access along Wasatch Boulevard.; high traffic speeds; reducing shoulder widths; inadequate noise reduction; and local impacts that would affect the mobility of all users.

“Not treating Wasatch (Boulevard) as an arterial but as a highway, as a gateway to the canyons, would not be conducive for pedestrian elements,” Tingey said.

In addition to their continual concerns, Cottonwood Heights expressed opposition of the Gondola B alternative based on recent additions to the EIS plans.

“The original gondola base station was 1,500 parking stalls. That, for us, was too much because it did not stop traffic through our city. UDOT came back and said they are going to make it 2,500 parking stalls, which to me is kind of a slap in the face,” said Mayor Mike Weichers. “We feel disrespected. We had concerns with the parking garage, and they not only disregarded them, but they increased parking.”

The addition of parking stalls in the EIS was perceived as a lack of consideration to local impact. With more parking, traffic issues along the corridor on peak days are anticipated to increase.

“There will be a self-inflicted need to widen the roadway which we don’t think they should be even looking at,” Tingey said. “They should not be adding capacity before it’s warranted.”

If UDOT were to incorporate a five-lane or seven-lane highway option design for Wasatch Boulevard, neighborhood access would be greatly impacted as well.

“They have stated specifically that they are in favor of removing the old pine trees in favor of road widening,” said Councilmember Ellen Birrell

The current preferred solutions for transportation solutions within the EIS are incompatible with the Cottonwood Heights Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan as the gondola does not provide flexibility in removing canyon traffic. Cottonwood Heights would like UDOT to address these issues in relation to the city’s planning document.

As it has become an essential point for Cottonwood Heights to reduce traffic speeds along Wasatch Boulevard, the city “needs to play a significant role in the roadway design of Wasatch Boulevard,” Tingey said.

Cottonwood Heights has been supportive of an approach to transportation alternatives within the canyon involving phased-in bussing. They have requested more accurate and recent data regarding UTA’s ridership as flex busses could be used year-round for a more suitable long-term investment.

“Develop a year-round plan for bussing beyond Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts’ demand, and it’s a better investment of public funds,” Birrell said.