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Snowbird Prefers Gondola Solution To Little Cottonwood Traffic Woes, Deer Valley Wants the Same

Utah Department of Transportation

With the Utah Department of Transportation releasing its final recommendations for the growing traffic problem in Little Cottonwood Canyon last week, Snowbird Resort has come out in favor of an aerial transit solution over expanded bus services. In Park City, Deer Valley has expressed support for a similar solution to the city’s own transit dilemma. 


With more and more people flocking to Little Cottonwood Canyon for year-round recreation, traffic and commute times have only gotten worse. 


UDOT officials unveiled two final transit solutions to the ever-increasing congestion last week: An aerial gondola or expanded bus services and a widening of SR 210 up the canyon.


Both options would ultimately cost over $500 million to build, with the gondola requiring more up-front costs and the bus option being more expensive to operate year over year. According to UDOT, after 30 years, the total costs are projected to even out for the two solutions. 


Snowbird President and COO Dave Fields told KPCW the resort is firmly in the gondola camp and cited the efficiency and safety of an aerial transit option. 


“We are very committed to the gondola concept because we’ve studied this for the better part of a decade trying to figure out what the best way to get people up reliably, safely, and efficiently in this canyon,” he said. “The way that you can get over the top of avalanche paths and you wouldn’t be reliant on vehicles that can get stuck in the canyon, busses included, during a big snowstorm. We do not believe that turning Little Cottonwood Canyon into the highway equivalent of Provo Canyon with four lanes is the way to solve these problems.”


The Wasatch Back is experiencing traffic problems of its own too.


Congestion in and around Park City has worsened as more and more visitors flock to the area each year for summer and winter tourism and recreation. The city currently has future plans for satellite parking lots and dedicated bus lanes in an effort to reduce the number of cars on roads. The idea of aerial transit as a potential solution to traffic problems has also been explored.  


Last year, Park City Municipal conducted a preliminary feasibility study for a network of gondolas that would connect several key community locations. The study put costs for the project at roughly $65 million, with $3.5 million required annually for operations and maintenance costs.


The Old Town Transit Center, the site of the proposed Arts and Culture District on Kearns Boulevard, and the base areas of Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort were identified as potential hubs.


Deer Valley has been an advocate of aerial transit in Park City since 2013 and President and CEO Jeremy Levitt reiterated the resort's preference for a city-wide gondola at a community leadership forum this March.


“We’d love to see the town, work with them to put an aerial transit in from downtown into Deer Valley,” Levitt said. “Parking is obviously key to Deer Valley, and so anything that gets done there, we’ll make sure that parking is better than it is today and that transit is better than it is today.”


Deer Valley is currently in the planning stages to redevelop the Snow Park base area and Levitt said transit will be a central feature of those plans.


On the city side, no decisions were made on an aerial transit system last fall, but councilors expressed a need to get more serious about creative options in the future -- especially if the Olympics return to Utah in 2030 or 2034.


Rusty Gregory is the CEO of Alterra Mountain Company, which owns Deer Valley, and added any transit solution at the resort needs to be done in conjunction with the community.


“You need to follow the community’s direction in terms of how they see transportation going forward,” said Gregory. “We need to fit into the community’s plan for itself and be part of making those plans by collaborating with community members. Clearly, the vehicle with a single driver in it is a problem for all of us.”


The Park City Council is not scheduled to revisit aerial transit anytime soon, but UDOT is seeking public input on their two proposals for Little Cottonwood Canyon. Public meetings are scheduled for July 13th and 20th, and the public comment period for the project runs until August 9th.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.
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