Alta leaders want traffic issues fixed before a gondola is built to Little Cottonwood Canyon

In a letter to UDOT and the governor’s office, Alta officials say busy ski days in the city and resort are causing a standstill while Snowbird’s guests can leave faster.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) During the snow storm on Wednesday, February 22, 2023, a long line of cars formed near Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Local Alta leaders want the Utah Department of Transportation to first fix traffic issues before rolling out the controversial gondola through Little Cottonwood Canyon, according to a letter sent to the department.

The head of the Alta ski area says he still supports the construction of the gondola, but that issue needs to be resolved first.

In a letter Monday, numerous Alta executives and business suppliers outlined how the current flow of traffic often benefits Snowbird’s customers and employees, while those at Alta typically see longer waits and congestion in the canyon. Signatories to the letter include Mike Maughan, General Manager of Alta Ski Area, and Roger Bourke, Mayor of the City of Alta.

Maughan told the Salt Lake Tribune the letter was sent to UDOT, the Utah Governor’s Office and the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

Getting in and out of Little Cottonwood Canyon has been difficult for skiers and drivers this year due to busy bus routes and heavy snowfall making for poor road conditions.

The letter, obtained by The Tribune on Wednesday, said the city’s traffic problems on peak days are being caused by “the traffic merges, curb parking at Snowbird and the standstill when the main line closes.” The main route refers to the SR 210 main road that runs through the gorge and can often be closed during avalanche control operations, forcing Alta guests and residents to take the nearby bypass.

A UDOT spokesman told The Tribune on Thursday the agency had received the letter and was still drafting a response.

The letter explains that regardless of road closures, Snowbird guests can exit the Canyon faster than Alta guests using current road enforcement methods. Alta is further up the canyon than Snowbird.

Maughan said SR 210 has closed more frequently this year – largely due to heavy snowfall and the frequent need for avalanche rescue – compounding the long-standing problem. Traffic on the bypass is at a standstill because of the junction points on the road, he said.

He added that he doesn’t blame Snowbird for the traffic issues, saying Snowbird has no control over the closure of SR 210 and the neighboring resort recognizes the disparity in the merger.

“We’ve looked at the UDOT EIS and even with the step-by-step approach we don’t see anything in it that addresses this issue,” Maughan told The Tribune, saying it was one of the reasons they submitted the letter to UDOT.

He added the letter doesn’t mean he opposed building the gondola, as he still thinks the project will eventually get cars off the road, but the merge issues should be addressed first as construction of a gondola would take years.

Bourke, the mayor of Alta, told The Tribune that seven to 15 cars in Snowbird can leave the resort for every car leaving Alta under the current merge conditions. He added: “This problem will not be solved by the nacelle.”

Bourke has been vocal against the gondola.

Alta officials in the letter urged UDOT to prioritize the traffic flow issue before beginning work on the nacelle.

“In our view, keeping the main line open during peak disembarkation times and providing a fairer convergence of Alta traffic on SR 210, which runs through Snowbird, are immediate necessities that should be addressed before Gondola Alternative B is implemented,” it said in the writing. “If they are not addressed, they will still exist after a nacelle is built.”

UDOT announced in August that it had decided that building an eight-mile gondola through the gorge was the most effective option to solve the gorge’s ongoing traffic problems. The polarizing decision has since drawn criticism from local and regional leaders, with Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City leaders condemning the project.

Snowbird was the lead rider pushing for the nacelle, and Alta and Snowbird executives, including Maughan, have supported the plan. Snowbird quietly bought two pieces of land on which to build the gondola’s base station and later spearheaded the Gondola Works group dedicated to building the gondola.

UDOT has yet to issue a final report recommending construction of the nacelle, which is estimated to cost the state over $500 million. The final report is expected to be published in the coming months. Alta leaders want traffic issues fixed before a gondola is built to Little Cottonwood Canyon

Justin Scacco

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