Little Cottonwood Gondola Wins UDOT Approval

The future of Little Cottonwood Canyon transit is in the sky. Don’t look up. After a long period of deliberation the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has selected a three-phase plan, the centerpiece of which is an eight-mile long gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon with a 2,500-space parking and transit hub at the bottom. The gondola was selected over numerous other solutions, including widening State Route 210 and vastly increasing the number of buses serving canyons users. 

UDOT’s decision this week serves as the organization’s final record of decision, which is what will allow the state to secure the enormous amount of funding—which will now be eligible for allocation during the 2024 legislative session—required for such an extravagant project. According to UDOT’s project manager for the Little Cottonwood Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Josh Van Jura, the estimated cost for implementation is a staggering $728 million in addition to $4.4 million annually for operations. 

The Gondola is unlikely to be finished for years, though Little Cottonwood Canyon users will begin to notice changes as soon as 2025. Van Jura stated on Wednesday that the public’s input throughout the process was an important factor in UDOT’s decision to implement the transportation overhaul in phases. Phase 1, expected to begin in fall 2025, includes traffic restrictions such as tolls of $20-$30 during peak hours and parking restrictions on the sides of the canyon roads. The tolls are anticipated to only be applied about 50 days a year between 7:00 a.m. and 10 a.m. above the White Pine Trail, and wouldn’t be implemented until additional low-cost transit alternatives like busses were available. Phase 2 would involve widening Wasatch Boulevard at the base of the canyon, and Phase 3 the gondola and parking hub. Timelines for the phases two and three are theoretical at best. 

Credit: UDOT

UDOT’s decision puts a bow on a decision many have expected since the organization identified the gondola as it’s preferred alternative in summer 2022. But it brings the behemoth eight-mile long gondola composed of 35-person cars much closer to reality. Still, critics of the project come from many corners. 

Some express valid environmental concerns regarding both the disruption of sensitive ecosystems while others worry about the visual impact of 200-foot tall towers throughout the canyon. Then there are those who wonder why taxpayers should shoulder such an enormous financial burden when building infrastructure that primarily benefits two private entities, ski resorts Snowbird and Alta which sit at the top of the canyon. Then there’s the small issue the entire project does almost nothing to address the brewing traffic issues in neighboring Big Cottonwood Canyon. 

Whether the gondola will prove successful or turn into Salt Lake City’s very own monorail depends on innumerable factors going forward, but critics will be waiting with bated breath for any sign of something going awry. It’ll be years before we know how this turns out, but UDOT made a pretty enormous call they better hope works out. 

Tony Gill
Tony Gill
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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