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UDOT EIS Little Cottonwood Canyon

Gondola alternative would just be an expensive marketing ploy.

 LAWSUIT AGAINST UDOT GONDOLA 

Friends of Alta is a leading member of the coalition filing a lawsuit against the UDOT Gondola Project in LCC.

Read the official press release (12/5/2023) below: 

Utah Department of Transportation sued by coalition seeking common sense traffic solutions for Little Cottonwood Canyon

Today, Canyon Guard Inc., announced that a coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to finding sensible and less damaging solutions for transportation bottlenecks in Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC) filed a lawsuit challenging the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) decision to install a Gondola system as the final solution.  

Craig Heimark, spokesperson for the plaintiffs, and Chair of Canyon Guard, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed to facilitate finding sensible transportation solutions in Little Cottonwood Canyon, states, “we hope the lawsuit will induce a pause while additional analysis is performed, providing legislators time to review the over $1B cost of the Gondola Project, which is opposed by over 80% of the public respondents and all the affected areas’ mayors.” Little Cottonwood Canyon is a world renowned venue that could be irreparably damaged by a hasty decision focused only on traffic congestion rather than on protecting the interests of all Utah citizens and canyon users.”

Heimark continued, “we expect the lawsuit will create the time and space for Utah legislators to review and direct UDOT to consider and test cheaper and more effective transportation solutions by using the $150M recently authorized BEFORE allocating additional taxpayer dollars or making a final decision.”

 

Alternative solutions include:

 • Restoring public bus service to at least 2019 levels;

• Testing the effectiveness of electric bus technology and service to satisfy demand, improving the quality and frequency of existing public transportation as mandated and funded by the State legislature:

• Requiring advance reserved parking;

• Enforcing mandatory traction laws for LCC, November 1 to May 1;

• Testing selected lane closures for private vehicles during peak traffic hours; to reduce the transit time of buses and micro-transit vehicles;

• Installing tolling infrastructure that includes variable pricing to promote carpooling and micro-transit solutions;

• Comparing cost and effectiveness of modern Remote Control Avalanche equipment to the proposed installation of very expensive snow sheds.  

 

The lawsuit challenges several aspects of UDOT’s process in its review and selection of the Gondola Project. Plaintiffs seek to invalidate the Final EIS and Record of Decision and require UDOT to consider the full impact of the Gondola Project in LCC, on its water resources and in the nearby neighborhoods and canyons.

 

Among other issues, the lawsuit alleges UDOT failed to:

• Identify an appropriate purpose and need for the transportation concerns to justify the Gondola Project impacts and costs;

• Consider reasonable alternatives and present unbiased analyses; 

• Adequately scope their Environmental Impact Statement to analyze impacts to views, wildlife, air and water quality, roadless areas, hazardous waste sites, and impacts to areas outside Little Cottonwood Canyon as required by law;

• Substantively respond to public comments throughout the NEPA process, including those related to the above impacts and full/accurate costs of the Gondola Project;

• Properly coordinate with the United States Forest Service, which manages nearly all of the land through which the Gondola system will be constructed and operate; and

• Comply with the 1966 Transportation Act enacted to protect our public recreation area, our trails, and our local climbing areas.

Click Here for a summary of public concerns on the proposed Gondola

Click Here for further contact details and information on the lawsuit

Craig Heimark, spokesperson for plaintiffs

Pat Shea, representative of Friends of Alta, an organizational plaintiff

 

Background Info on the UDOT Gondola Project:

Wintertime traffic safety and congestion in LCC is the concern driving UDOT. Unfortunately, UDOT did not research the effectiveness of many proven techniques, like reserved parking, and increasing busing, but focused on a first-of-its-kind 8-mile gondola from the Salt Lake Valley to the top of LCC. The gondola ride is expected to take over an hour, would stop at only two for-profit businesses, and cost every Utah household over $1000.

How You Can Help?

While Friends of Alta will take every measure to consolidate and reduce costs, the reality is that this lawsuit will be extremely costly. We are a small non-profit going up against well-funded opposition and we need your help to level the playing field. We have the best Members in the world, and we humbly ask you to donate to support our ongoing legal   efforts to protect Alta and Little Cottonwood Canyon from from this undue and unnecessary threat. 

 

This is a fight that Alta and Little Cottonwood cannot afford to lose. Please help us protect Alta and Little Cottonwood Canyon for generations to come.

THE GONDOLA IS WRONG FOR
LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON 

Video created by Friends of Little Cottonwood Canyon

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (EIS)

UDOT has identified two preferred alternatives to improve transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Draft EIS, the Enhanced Bus Service in Peak-Period Shoulder Lane as the alternative that best improves mobility and the Gondola Alternative B (base station from La Caille) as the alternative that best improves reliability.

In addition to the preliminary preferred alternatives, other elements have also been developed that would be combined to support each alternative. These include snow sheds (concrete structures built over the highway to keep it clear of snow in case of avalanches); mobility hubs (larger-capacity park-and-ride lots with transit service); widening and other improvements to Wasatch Boulevard; tolling or single occupancy restrictions; addressing trailhead parking and eliminating winter roadside parking above Snowbird Entry 1.

LittleCottonwodCanyon_Web__OverViewMap.jpeg

By now, I’m sure you’ve read the headlines. “UDOT gives final approval to a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon”. Which, while technically true, doesn’t tell you the whole story. Yes, the “record of decision” would seem to be the final word regarding the construction of a gondola in LCC. In reality, it’s far from it. I will state, unequivocally, that the final word has yet to be spoken. In truth, many of us who have been involved in this process believed Gondola Alternative B (See description below) would be the most likely selection by UDOT and have been preparing for this potential eventuality. Friends of Alta has been very active in the fight against the construction of a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and has devoted a great deal of time, energy, and resources to protect the little slice of paradise we call Alta. We may have entered a new phase of this fight, but it is not the final one. Friends of Alta will continue to work with elected officials, community leaders, UDOT, partner non-profits, media, and the citizens of Utah to stop this travesty from ever becoming a reality. Remember, an overwhelming percentage of Utahans oppose a gondola in LCC, including many elected officials in surrounding cities, and, most importantly, the Town of Alta itself. To put it bluntly, it’s a wildly unpopular solution to traffic congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon. 
Where do we go from here?
To better understand the fight ahead, it’s important to understand what the “phased approach” of Gondola Alternative B will look like.
•    PHASE 1: Phase 1 will include improved and increased bus service, constructing resort bus stops, constructing a mobility hub at the Gravel Pit, tolling, and winter roadside parking restrictions. Phase 1 is anticipated to be operational in the fall of 2025.
•    PHASE 2: If funded, Phase 2 will include widening Wasatch Boulevard, constructing snow sheds, and implementing trailhead parking improvements. 
•    PHASE 3: If funded, UDOT will implement the construction of the gondola. Once the gondola is operational, bus service in Little Cottonwood Canyon would be discontinued. As of the time of writing this, the gondola is a minimum of 25 years away from being built. 

If handled correctly, there is a high likelihood that Phase 1 alone could meet the reduction in traffic congestion sought by UDOT. It could do so in an equitable, environmentally conscious way, that is both scalable and adaptable to meet any challenges that may arise.  Currently, only Phase 1 has secured funding. Friends of Alta will monitor the data and outcomes produced by Phase 1 as this information will be vital in determining the effectiveness of the commonsense solutions put forth. 
If you care about preserving the beauty of Alta and Little Cottonwood Canyon for generations to come, please consider donating to Friends of Alta to help fund our ongoing efforts to stop the gondola in its tracks. As a small non-profit, we rely on the generosity of our donors to fund the conservation work that we do every day. We may be small, but our passion for Alta and Little Cottonwood Canyon is immeasurable. 

Kody R. Fox
Executive Director
Friends of Alta

UDOT Final EIS Decision

Gondola SOC
UDOT Gate Butress image

Talking Points

Irreversible & Rushed Decision

There is simply no reason to invest $590 million in a permanent project with so many unanswered questions.

If common sense could prevail, we would implement cost-effective and environmentally-friendly options such as enhanced busses, tolling, reservations and enforcement of traction laws.

We have seen parking reservations work throughout the Wasatch in the last few years. Tolling has proven to be an effective solution in Millcreek Canyon.

As Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said, these are “common-sense solutions that are fiscally sound.”

 

The gondola would be permanent. Once it’s built, it’s there forever. The viewscape of Little Cottonwood Canyon would be irreversibly scarred by the more than 20 towers scaling as high as 262 feet into the sky moving 40 large gondolas.

 
Tax-Payer-Funded, Serving Private Resorts

Why are Utah taxpayers footing the $590 million bill for a problem two private businesses created and for a solution that will only benefit those two businesses?

As we know, resort executives stand to gain the most from a gondola and have been behind the majority of pro-gondola messaging. 

They view the gondola as a tax-payer-funded marketing ploy to increase visitation to their businesses.

UDOT’s EIS states, “The [gondola] would provide an economic benefit to the ski resorts by allowing more users to access the resorts.” [Ch. 6]. If the gondola is implemented, the number of cars visiting resorts will remain the same while skier visits will increase by 20%, per UDOT’s EIS.

Common sense solutions are a fraction of the cost, scalable, and effective. These include tolling, reservations, and enhance bus service. 

Ignoring Local Public & Political Opinion

80% of Utahns oppose the gondola, according to a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. 

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, Sandy Mayor Monica Zoltanski and many other elected officials agree.

“Rather than rip up the canyon with a half-a-billion-dollar price tag, let’s invest in common-sense solutions. Parking hubs in the valley, electric busing with regular routes, carpooling and tolling, reservations, common-sense solutions that are fiscally sound,” Wilson said at the Truth About the Proposed Gondola event in June.

With no trailhead or backcountry access, the gondola is far from a solution that benefits all of LCC’s users throughout the year.

Not a Convenient Solution

If the gondola is built, your ski day will consist of parking off-site (or paying a premium for one of the limited parking spots near the base), taking a bus to the base station then riding the gondola 31 minutes to Snowbird or 37 minutes to Alta.

And then doing it all in reverse order at the end of the day.

How can it be assured the gondola will be used and actually reduce cars in the canyon?

For the gondola strategy to be effective, there will need to be a major change in public habits.

With no plan by UDOT to limit cars (it is our understanding they plan to implement bussing until the gondola is built but not continue the program afterward) or any analysis of demand, the original issue of traffic is not being solved. It will simply funnel more visitors to the resorts.

Increased Visitation Stress on LCC

If those invested in the gondola are so interested in preserving Little Cottonwood Canyon, the first thing they should do is support a capacity/visitor management study to better understand how many visitors LCC can support.

As our friends at Students for the Wasatch pointed out, if the gondola is implemented, the number of cars visiting resorts will remain the same while skier visits will increase by 20%, per UDOT’s EIS.

The EIS states, “The [gondola] would provide an economic benefit to the ski resorts by allowing more users to access the resorts.” [Ch. 6]

The gondola poses significant risk to our watershed. Through its construction and greatly increased pressure on Little Cottonwood Canyon from increased visitation. 

What Will it Really Cost?

The proposed budget to build the gondola comes in at approximately $590 million. But many estimate that number would ultimately come in closer to $1 billion. 

We know projects of this size tend to go way over budget. Our new airport (which could use a gondola from Terminal B) was budgeted for $1.8 billion and ended up costing more than $4 billion.

If the gondola is built, it would cost $10.6 million annually just to operate. Plus, UDOT estimates an additional $12.5 million in capital costs, expected by 2037, followed by $16.5 million by 2051, according to the Deseret News.

Is a Gondola Even Necessary?

How many days per winter are you in a complete standstill in Little Cottonwood Canyon? No doubt the red snake is real. But real enough for an expensive, permanent gondola?

Plus, the gondola will not run when howitzers are active during avalanche mitigation in the lower canyon from Lisa Falls to Monte Cristo.

The gondola will only run for a portion of the year and will only service those going to ski Alta or Snowbird. A solution like the enhanced bus alternative would serve all the recreators in the canyon and would do so throughout the entire year at a reduced cost in comparison to the gondola. 

 

Preserving the Beauty of LCC

Little Cottonwood Canyon is a true treasure of our local environment and attracts skiers, climbers and hikers from around the world to enjoy its beauty.

Constructing more than 20 towers reaching 200 feet tall and stretching eight miles through the heart of LCC would destroy the canyon’s natural beauty.

Altering the canyon’s footprint will also destroy popular climbing and hiking areas including Alpenboch Loop Trail.

 

Push Traffic onto Wasatch Blvd.

The gondola will not solve traffic issues. 

It will simply push traffic out of Little Cottonwood Canyon onto Wasatch Blvd, I-215 and surrounding neighborhoods in the Cottonwood Heights community. 

Talking points courtesy of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance

Friends of Alta Point of View

Sign me up!

Friends of Alta supports common sense solutions to improve canyon traffic, including parking management technologies and policies, carpooling incentives, traction device requirements and enforcement, and the development of regional transportation hubs to promote enhanced busing.  These common sense measures meet the goal set out by UDOT to minimize potential harm to the watershed while maintaining the infrastructure to service the whole canyon.  This option is flexible and can be changed to meet changing needs for transportation in LCC.

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Media Coverage

KUTV Fresh Living 

What can you  do?

Find out who your representative is and write or call them!

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Sample Letter to Lawmakers

As your constituent, I rely on you to make decisions that have community support, improve our way of life and protect Utah’s precious scenery. That is why I am writing today to strongly oppose the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) Gondola Alternative B plan. 

 

The massive 200-foot gondola comes with a whopping $600 million price tag, paid for by Utah residents to benefit wealthy ski resorts. This proposed solution to congestion is a tax-payer funded marketing ploy to increase visitation to those resorts and is nothing more than corporate welfare disguised as infrastructure. The casualties of this bad decision will be the watershed and pristine environment of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

 

There are many reasons I oppose the Gondola Alternative B project, specifically:

 

  1. The gondola is too expensive and Utah taxpayers are picking up the bill:
    UDOT is using our hard-earned money to fund a $600 million project. The multi-million dollar corporations that stand to benefit from the gondola should be picking up the tab. UDOT’s EIS states, “The [gondola] would provide an economic benefit to the ski resorts by allowing more users to access the resorts.” [Ch. 6]. If the gondola is built, the number of cars visiting resorts will remain the same while skier visits will increase by 20%, per the EIS. Only 2-3% of weekend skiers are Utah residents, but every Utah citizen will pay approximately $175 just to build the gondola, not to mention supporting the steep operating costs. For a family of four, that is $700 for a method of transportation they will likely never use. This is corporate welfare. These wealthy companies don’t need Utah families to pay so they can profit even more.

  2. The gondola poses a tremendous risk to the environment and vital watershed in Little Cottonwood Canyon: With a proposed 19 towers up to 262 feet tall, the gondola will irreversibly change the landscape we all know and love. It will also risk contamination of the Little Cottonwood Canyon watershed, which is responsible for providing swaths of vital water in Salt Lake Valley. 

  3. The proposed gondola fails to serve its intended purpose of reducing traffic congestion: The Little Cottonwood EIS specifically states that UDOT does not anticipate traffic volumes will decrease with their proposed gondola alternative. As stated in EIS 8.4.3.2, “daily traffic volumes would be similar to the existing conditions in 2020.” Why are we paying for something we know won’t work?

 

I am not alone in my objections; 80% of Utahns oppose building a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon. As someone with great influence over the project funding, I urge you on behalf of your voters to amend or repeal Utah Senate Bill 277 and to oppose this project. 

 

Signed,
Name

City, State

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