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Commission seeking transit solutions for Big Cottonwood Canyon

Traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon has increased significantly in the last several years.
Utah Department of Transportation
Traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon has increased significantly in the last several years.

The Central Wasatch Commission recently issued a request for proposals to address short- and long-term transportation solutions in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Along with other outdoor destinations, Big Cottonwood Canyon has seen a large uptick in visitors since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December of 2018, over 100,000 vehicles were marked entering the mouth of the canyon. In December 2022, nearly half a million vehicles did so.

Blake Perez, who is the executive director of administration for the Central Wasatch Commission, said the goal is to create a playbook for policymakers to execute in the coming years as the canyon is now at what he considers a tipping point.

“It will hopefully identify near, mid, and long-term transportation investments, mobility investments, policy changes to improve mobility in Big Cottonwood Canyon - year round mobility, connections to regional transportation systems,” Perez said.

The project will also seek potential fundings sources and determine environmental impacts. Perez said they are working with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), the U.S. Forest Service, ski resorts, and homeowners.

“One of our main goals is to be a forum for various stakeholders," he said. "Through the development of the RFP we’ve had multiple stakeholder involvement and engagement and we’ll continue to do that once we begin the work of the contract.”

The commission is also conducting a visitor use study that will be finished this year and will help serve the transit plan.

While a ski bus to Solitude and Brighton is offered in the winter in Salt Lake City, there are no public transportation options in the summer.

Park City has easy access to Big Cottonwood in the summer thanks to Guardsman Pass, which closes in the winter.

Park City Municipal in partnership with Utah Open Lands bought over 1,500 acres in neighboring Bonanza Flat in 2017. Several popular trails have since been developed, including Bloods Lake.

The city’s Transit to Trails program, which shuttles hikers and bikers to trailheads, began in an effort to ease traffic congestion.

The closest any of Park City’s routine buses gets to Big Cottonwood is the purple route, which goes as high up as the Montage.

After analyzing over 100 transportation options for sister Little Cottonwood Canyon, UDOT has narrowed it down to two - an extended bus lane or an 8-mile long gondola.

The commission's plan is scheduled to be finalized in May.