Here are the potential changes that could help alleviate Big Cottonwood Canyon’s transportation issues

As well as expanding bus services through the gorge, the Central Wasatch Commission also wants to potentially build mobility centers in Solitude and Brighton.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skiers and snowboarders queue for the ski bus on Wasatch Blvd. near Big Cottonwood Canyon when the Salt Lake Valley will be covered with snow on Wednesday February 22, 2023.

After a winter of heavy snowfall, closed roads and frequent traffic jams, local officials now have a paper plan on how best to address transportation issues in one of Salt Lake’s busiest resort areas — Big Cottonwood Canyon.

After months of study, the Central Wasatch Commission (CWC) released its Mobility Action Plan earlier this week, outlining how it thinks traffic problems could best be solved. The CWC is an intergovernmental organization comprised of city, state, and state agencies dedicated to sustainability along the Wasatch Frontier.

The plan’s major benefit is the need to reduce the number of cars on the winding road through the gorge – which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been bumper-to-bumper with other cars this winter or had trouble finding parking at the spot at the starting points in summer.

The CWC plan emphasizes the need to “shift from automobiles to public transit by expanding public transit” and to “improve the reliability of public transit” throughout Big Cottonwood throughout the year.

Blake Perez, the executive director of the CWC, told The Salt Lake Tribune the plan includes recommendations for improving the canyon, ranging from smaller projects like re-striping parking lots to larger requests like proposing a transit district dedicated to Central to create Wasatch Gorges.

The plan envisages different transportation solutions depending on the area, such as building larger mobility hubs for buses in the Canyon’s ski areas – Brighton and Solitude – or making minor changes to trailheads to improve their quality.

“I wouldn’t say it’s just buses,” Perez said. “There are a number of options that can be pursued depending on the problem we want to address.”

The expansion of bus travel isn’t a new concept, as skiers and snowboarders have been clamoring for more public transportation in recent years. This winter, however, the opposite happened — the Utah Transit Authority announced cuts in bus routes due to staffing shortages. In response, new bus services appeared.

But positive developments are emerging as the Legislature approved $150 million in funding to address transportation issues in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. The problem, however, is that it will likely take years for these advances to materialize.

Perez said the timing for the newly allocated state money couldn’t be better as the CWC’s plan outlines ways for people to move through Big Cottonwood and how much options cost. Potential tolls are also mentioned in the CWC’s plan, as the $150 million in federal funds could be used to introduce tolls in both Big and Little Cottonwood.

Perez added that the CWC worked with UDOT during much of the process, and the CWC will be meeting with Salt Lake County leaders and state officials.

“We want to set them up for success with the funding that will be available July 1,” Perez said, noting the $150 million from the state that will be available at the start of the state’s new fiscal year.

Going forward, decisions about what to do first will likely rest with Salt Lake County and the state, as UDOT and the Legislature can also make decisions about funding for the larger projects outlined in the CWC plan.

“We did our homework, we turned it in, and we’re really excited to see what came out of the BCC[Mobility Action Plan],” Perez said.

In addition to the mobility plan, the CWC this week also approved funding for several short-term projects, including a shuttle from Park City to high-traffic trailheads along Guardsman Pass and a partnership with the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance for a free Saturday ski shuttle next winter for Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

Justin Scaccy

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