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Improvements coming to Little Cottonwood Canyon

Jun 22, 2018 11:46AM ● Published by Cassie Goff

Additional park-and-ride hubs with more busses being prioritized in canyon traffic is one of the proposed alternatives for canyon transportation. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

By Cassie Goff | cassie@mycityjournals.com

The mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon will be getting a makeover during the spring of 2020. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is currently working on an environmental impact statement (EIS) with plans to totally re-vamp the area.

“About two million people visit Little Cottonwood Canyon. That is comparable to Zion,” said UDOT Project Manager John Thomas.

With so many people visiting the canyon, transportation has become quite an issue. The two-lane road can’t keep up with the canyon traffic, especially during the popular ski days of winter.  

“It’s not going to get better,” Thomas said. “There is more population in Utah and tourism is increasing.”

The EIS project aims to improve the area for the increasing traffic. The UDOT team hopes to manage the number of vehicles on the road, improve vehicle mobility, and improve roadway safety and reliability for all users, while still reflecting the character and scale of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Large parking nodes with park-and-ride hubs are one of the more favorable improvements for canyon transportation. (John Thomas/UDOT)

 The entire corridor is being studied for improvement considerations, from the 6200 South/I-215 interchange, through Wasatch Boulevard and State Road 210 (the road up the canyon), all the way up to the Alta Ski Area and Snowbird, including the Bypass Road.

On April 24, the Cottonwood Heights City Council met with Thomas to discuss the plans for the EIS project. Over the prior few months, Thomas and the UDOT team met with many residents, students, municipalities and entities to discuss possible alternative improvements for the canyon. This included an open house on April 10 at the Cottonwood Heights City Hall building.

As possible alternative improvements were discussed, the main considerations for the UDOT team were transportation issues, congestion in the canyons, dispersed parking along the roadway, population growth and increased tourism. The overall goal is to reduce peak congestion and improve recreation and tourism experiences.

Some of the possible alternative improvements proposed include tolling, avalanche sheds, park and rides outside the canyon, enforcement, van shuttles, signalized intersections, improved communications, roadway improvements, bike lanes, gondolas and trailhead parking and restrooms.

Out of these possible alterative improvements, some were a little more costly than others. Gondolas have to move along straight lines, which mean it would require breaks throughout the canyon. There would have to be a base at the mouth of the canyon, with a stop somewhere near Tanners Flat, before it could reach the top of the canyon. Even though this would be an expensive alternative, a gondola could carry up to 1,200 people per hour through the canyon.  

One of the most crucial concerns for the canyon corridor is parking. The UDOT team has been attempting to find areas for more parking and park-and-ride hubs. After talking with community members, one idea stood out. “What if we consolidate parking; if we had one big node at the gravel pit, or one big node at 9400 South and Highland Drive,” Thomas said.

More park-and-ride hubs would require busses to have priority through the canyon traffic. UDOT has considered cue jumping to allow busses to get a time advantage over other cars. “If a toll was added on top of that, busses might start to make sense,” Thomas said.

For Cottonwood Heights residents, Wasatch Boulevard is a big concern. The UDOT team is creating a Wasatch Boulevard EIS where they are currently gaining input from stakeholders. They will also be working with Community and Economic Development Director Mike Johnson, as he created a Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan for the city.

UDOT is also working on a $50 million project for the 6200 South/I-215 interchange. For more information on the interchange project, visit here: http://uplan.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=435004fd65794b83b12334f68597782b.

For this huge Little Cottonwood Canyon project, which encompasses smaller projects like the interchange, Wasatch Boulevard, and park-and-rides, the state will be contributing some resources from transportation funds.

“We can meet other objects in the canyon with tolling,” said Thomas.  

“Everything is working for us right now. UDOT and UTA (Utah Transit Authority) are under the same roof, with some state funding. We have a lot of citizens trying to solve the problem. We are really in a neat situation,” Thomas said.

In June, alternative improvement sketches were published online. Over the next few months, deliberations for a preferred alternative improvement will be ongoing. There will be at least one more 30-day public comment period as concepts of alternatives are developed and refined. 

By October, the UDOT teams hope to have a preferred improvement finalized. From this October until summer 2019, a draft for the EIS will be completed and a public hearing will be held with a 45-day public comment period.

 The final EIS will be completed by spring 2020, at which point construction for preferred improvements will begin.

UDOT has met with the Alta Town Council, Cottonwood Heights City Council, Central Wasatch Commission, Forest Service, Holladay City Council, Sandy City Council and the Salt Lake County Council.

For more information, visit https://www.udot.utah.gov/littlecottonwoodeis/

Or follow the project on Twitter: https://twitter.com/UDOTlcceis

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