Little Cottonwood Canyon Gondola

The Utah Department of Transportation decided last month to support an 8-mile gondola to alleviate congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The process started five years ago, when UDOT announced an environmental impact study to determine what transportation options would be most efficient in the canyon. And in July — after many meetings, public comment periods and alternative discussions — the department announced its phased approach to introducing the gondola.

But it won’t be in operation until sometime between 2043-2050, according to a planning schedule from the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

UT legislature funds transportation improvements, Little Cottonwood Canyon selected as a top-priority area


In 2017, the Utah legislature passed Senate Bill 277, which funded transportation improvement projects that would affect recreation and tourism. The Utah Transportation Commission ranked Little Cottonwood Canyon as a top-priority area in 2018, allocating $66 million toward what would become the Little Cottonwood Canyon project.


UDOT's Initial Public Scoping

March 2018

UDOT announced it intended to prepare an environmental impact statement for Little Cottonwood Canyon in March 2018. An EIS is the first step in the National Environmental Policy Act review process — which is triggered when a proposed major federal action could significantly affect the environment. The notice states that transportation improvements are needed for State Route 210 in order to “address congestion, improve safety for all users and enhance the availability of public transportation options in the canyon.”

UDOT solicits public input

April 2018

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A gondola was not yet specified, according to the public notice. But UDOT did hold an open house meeting on April 10, 2018, in Cottonwood Heights to solicit community input for possible options.

The agency also held a public comment period from March 9 to May 4, 2018, and around 20 of the over 400 commenters specified that they'd like to see more information about a gondola alternative — but many felt the idea was too expensive, and more of a pipe dream than a real option.

UDOT publishes scope report

July 2018

UDOT produced a report on the scope of the project in July 2018. According to that report, some of the biggest concerns from the public were the following:

-Ski resorts should pay most of the cost as they are the beneficiaries.

-The need to integrate transit, cycling, and hiking.

-Any canyon improvements should be tied into a larger transportation system that serves and benefits the entire Central Wasatch.

Some commenters were in favor of a gondola up the canyon, but many were opposed to parking garages on Wasatch Boulevard.

UDOT revises its scope

March 2019

UDOT revised the public scope of the project twice in March 2019, first based on 2018 feedback, and then again based on the 2019–2050 Regional Transportation Plan prepared by the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

The department’s new notice of intent detailed more specific improvements the agency would analyze — like roadway improvements on SR-210 and improved parking areas at U.S. Forest Service trailheads.


UDOT holds open house

April 2019

UDOT held a new open house with the revised scope on April 9, 2019. A factsheet for the open house projected that without any action, a 45% increase in traffic along SR-210 and Wasatch Boulevard would bring considerable delays.

The open house also explained the new scope of the project would focus on avalanche mitigation, Wasatch Boulevard, trailhead parking and roadway capacity.

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Two more public comment periods

March 2019-Dec. 2019
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After the initial public comment period, UDOT added a new focus to its scope: increased capacity in Little Cottonwood Canyon. All of the alternatives proposed by then would be included in a development and screening analysis, according to UDOT documents, to determine which alternatives will be carried forward for further review in the EIS.

UDOT releases proposed options for LCC

Oct. 2019
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UDOT released a report of its preliminary concepts and methodology for the project in October 2019.

This report included a gondola, and also solidified the objectives for the project: to substantially improve safety, reliability, and mobility on SR-210 from Fort Union Boulevard through the town of Alta; to consider Cottonwood Heights’ goal to include provisions for pedestrians, bicyclists, commuters, residents, and visitors; and to recognize the importance of the Little Cottonwood Canyon watershed.

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Public comment period opens for preliminary concepts

Nov. 2019

At this point, UDOT had commissioned a study examining combinations for a gondola system, integrated with parking structures and buses, and identified one scenario that could work — at a cost of at least $300 million to build and millions more to operate. Initially, the agency planned to issue a record of decision on an alternative by 2021.

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Salt Lake Tribune holds panel discussion on LCC options

Feb. 2020

Over 200 people discussed what they’d like to see from the Little Cottonwood Canyon EIS at a panel hosted by The Tribune.

The most popular solution to cut down on traffic was to make driving more costly — through paid parking reservations at the ski resorts. Many who attended were opposed to road expansions, and advocated enhanced bus service instead.

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UDOT moves forward with three choices

June 2020

UDOT held three meetings to present its three drafted transportation alternatives for the Little Cottonwood EIS: enhanced bus service, enhanced bus service with road widening, and a gondola.

The gondola — including building its mobility hubs — was initially estimated to cost $393 million in capital costs, with an additional $4.6 million in annual operating costs. A comment period on the concepts ran from June 8, 2020, to July 10, 2020.

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UDOT adds two new options

Nov. 2020

Public feedback added two more options to the alternatives UDOT would consider: a longer gondola from La Caille — known as the ‘gondola B’ option — and a cog rail. This new presentation also increased the cost of a gondola from $393 million in capital costs to at least $546 million, with a cog rail estimated to cost $1.05 billion.

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Utah Legislature establishes Cottonwood Canyons Transportation Investment Fund

Spring 2021

The Legislature created a new account to pay for public transit or transportation projects in the Cottonwood canyons.

The new Cottonwood Canyons Transportation Investment Fund is within UDOT’s transportation investment fund, and allocates up to $20 million per year from incremental growth in state sales taxes, according to documents from the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

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UDOT’s draft EIS identifies two preferred options

June 2021
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UDOT moved forward with a longer “Gondola B” option and enhanced bus service with road widening. The gondola was the agency’s choice for peak reliability, and enhanced busing with wider roads was the agency’s choice for peak mobility.

Two public comment periods were opened, one from Jun. 25 - Sept. 3, 2021, and another from Dec. 10, 2021, to Jan. 10, 2022.

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Both of UDOT’s preferred options criticized by officials, residents

Sept. 2021

Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and Alta officials expressed their concerns with the costs from UDOT’s two preferred options. Residents also protested the plans, feeling both options — a gondola obstructing canyon views or a widened road within the canyon — would harm the area.

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June 2022

Officials blast Little Cottonwood gondola as ‘boondoggle,’ call on UDOT to start over ahead of final EIS

“Rather than rip up the canyon with a half-a-billion-dollar price tag, let’s invest in common-sense solutions,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said. “Parking hubs in the valley, electric busing with regular routes, carpooling and tolling, reservations, common-sense solutions that are fiscally sound. Gondolas and wider roads are going to be built around the world, but God will not create any more canyons for us.”
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Final EIS selects gondola as UDOT’s preferred option

Aug. 31, 2022
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UDOT officials announced the gondola as their preferred choice for traffic mitigation in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The EIS showed the gondola approach would take place in phases — with the first phase including enhanced busing and tolling, the second adding on snowshed and trailhead improvements, and the third cutting the initial enhanced bus service and building the gondola’s infrastructure. A public comment period was opened from Sept. 2 to Oct. 17, 2022.

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Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City councils condemn gondola choice

Oct. 2022

The final EIS estimated the gondola would cost around $550 million, and although local officials condemned UDOT’s choice, the final say on the gondola is up to the Legislature to fund the gondola’s construction. The Salt Lake County Council passed a resolution for the gondola to be “eliminated from consideration” from Utah Department of Transportation’s record of decision, which was eventually issued in July 2023.

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UDOT officials say tolling in the canyons — part of the gondola’s phased implementation — may cost $20-$30

Oct. 2022

An official said a toll in the Cottonwood Canyons would only be in place on busy ski days within certain times, and it would not be in place year-round or even every day during ski season. Those who want to visit the area of Little Cottonwood Canyon leading up to Snowbird Ski Resort would not have to pay the toll, but those going further or visiting the resort would be required to pay.

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Gov. Spencer Cox announces support for UDOT’s gondola

Oct. 2022

Cox explained he was on the record “a long time ago” saying the gondola was a good idea, but that he also supported UDOT’s phased approach with expanded bus service as a short-term solution — since it will allow lawmakers to see what changes work in the canyon as the plan progresses.

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UTA cuts ski bus service amid driver shortage, impacting Little Cottonwood Canyon

2022-23 ski season

In September, UTA cut one of its two ski bus routes to Alta and Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The remaining route — and the route going to Brighton and Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon — was also limited to service every half hour, instead of every 15 minutes. Although UTA hopes to have a full roster of drivers by 2023’s ski season, UTA manager of service planning Eric Callison said he expected gaps in service to continue for a few years.

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Location of UDOT’s proposed gondola prompts questions over land ownership in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Reported Nov. 2022

A tower for the proposed gondola would be situated just below The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ secretive Granite Mountain Records Vault. And prior to the gondola decision, Snowbird bought two parcels of land where a proposed gondola base station and 2,500-stall parking garage would be located. The U.S. Forest Service also maintains about 5 acres of land where the gondola’s base stations and towers would be built.

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Dec. 2022

Gov. Cox releases his budget for 2023 - with no mention of a gondola

“This is still a process right now with the gondola,” Cox said. “We’re gonna go through the entire process, see where everything ends up after we receive all of the comments back, and then we’ll look at our options at that point.”
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Gov. Spencer Cox signs SB2, allocating $150M to address transportation woes in the canyons

March 2023

The money was allocated for "enhanced bus service, tolling, a mobility hub, and resort bus stops for Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons," the bill states. A UDOT official said the funds would only be used once UDOT issued its record of decision for Little Cottonwood Canyon, but expanding bus service could take up to two years to complete — so the canyon wouldn't see those changes until the 2025-2026 ski season. The bill's language also limited UDOT to spending the money on existing forms of public transit, so the funds couldn't go to gondola construction.

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Leitner-Poma of America, gondola and tram maker, announces new factory in Tooele

April 2023

LPOA makes cable-propelled apparatuses — cable cars, gondolas, trams and the like — for urban transportation. LPOA’s president and CEO said he would classify the proposed gondola through Little Cottonwood Canyon as an “urban transportation” project.

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Snowbird General Manager Dave Fields says gondola would’ve opened canyon during April snowstorms

April 2023

Fields said opening Snowbird during April's historic snowstorms wouldn't have been a question with a gondola in place. He believed it also would have allowed supplies to be delivered quicker and guests to leave earlier, since many were trapped at the resort amid avalanche risk.

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UDOT completes EIS process, selecting a gondola in its record of decision

July 2023

UDOT will first work to buy more buses, design mobility hubs and make plans for tolling in the canyon. UDOT wants these updates done by the fall of 2025.

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UDOT tallies price tags for the gondola’s three phases

Aug. 2023

A UDOT official said the department has secured about $211 million of the $240 million required for phase one of the plan — which includes changes to both Big and Little Cottonwood canyons — but there is still a remaining $716.1 million in capital costs for the plan’s next two phases. The department’s total estimated cost for the gondola project is $955.4 million, plus $21.7 million in annual operating cost and maintenance.

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What UDOT has done so far

Aug. 21, 2023

A UDOT official said the final EIS surpassed any previous environmental study in UDOT’s history with over five years of research and a careful review of around 50,000 formal public comments. Over the course of the project, the department evaluated over 100 alternative concepts before narrowing it down to the five presented in the draft EIS.


Aug. 2023

How the phases will work

“The phased implementation plan in the Record Of Decision is the direct result of public input we received on the Final EIS, as many commenters indicated they would like to see us start with less expensive improvements that didn’t require as much infrastructure,” UDOT Spokesperson John Gleason said in an email.  

“Removing a bus transfer and putting all parking at the gondola base station, which is now Gondola Alternative B, was a result of comments received on the alternative screening report.”

Changes to come - Phase 1

Fall 2025

UDOT officials are focusing on what’s funded so far: phase one, which includes enhanced busing, building a mobility hub, enhanced resort bus stops, tolling implementation and roadside parking restrictions. Phase one’s total cost is about $240 million, plus annual operations costs totaling about $17.3 million.


Changes to come - Phase 2


Phases two and three are dependent on funding, and UDOT didn't have a specific timeline on when they would be available.


However, the Wasatch Front Regional Council included a timeline for its inclusion of the gondola in a long-term regional transportation plan, which explained phase two would implement avalanche snow sheds, trailhead improvements, and widen Wasatch Boulevard between 2033-2042. This phase is estimated to cost about $187.5 million.


Phase 3: Building the gondola


Phase three of the gondola includes the gondola's actual construction, a parking structure, access-road improvements, and reconfiguring the Little Cottonwood Canyon "Park and Ride."


This phase is estimated to be completed between 2043-2050, according to the Wasatch Front Regional Council's timeline, and will total about $528.6 million in capital costs, plus $4.4 million in annual operations.


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