May 23, 2019

Save Our Canyons Summary and Fact Sheet of UDOT's LCC EIS

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Grizzly Gulch, Little Cottonwood Canyon Grizzly Gulch, Little Cottonwood Canyon

Save Our Canyons Summary And Fact Sheet of UDOT’s LCC EIS

This summary and fact sheet should help Save Our Canyons members understand and craft their comments to Utah Department Of Transportation’s (UDOT) Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

As a reminder you can submit comments here until June 14th!!!

What Is The Purpose Of This Project?

UDOT’s stated purpose for the LCC EIS is “to substantially enhance safety and improve mobility with respect to managing avalanche risk; improve operations at key intersections and parking at trailheads in Little Cottonwood Canyon; and improve the mobility on Wasatch Boulevard for residents, visitors, and commuters who use S.R. 210.”

The idea is “through transportation improvements, UDOT intends to mitigate congestion on S.R. 210 and improve recreation and tourism experiences for all users of the canyon. In providing these improvements, UDOT will consider the character, natural resources, watershed, diverse uses, and scale of Little Cottonwood Canyon.”

UDOT’s stated goals for the “North Little Cottonwood Road and Little Cotton Canyon Road” segments are to:

  • Improve the road’s reliability by substantially reducing the number of days and hours that the road is closed for avalanche mitigation and incidents.
  • Improve safety by reducing the risk of avalanches to roadway users.
  • Enhance roadway safety at trailhead parking areas for pedestrians and bicyclists and decrease conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized transportation modes.
  • Prevent roadside pavement damage caused by on-road parking at trailheads.

In addition to these goals, UDOT recognizes the importance of Little Cottonwood Canyon to Salt Lake City’s water supply and is committed to maintaining “the integrity of the watershed.”

What Is The Need For The Project?

UDOT articulates five reasons why this project is needed:

  • The avalanche hazard poses a risk to winter travelers in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The current avalanche-control program requires periodic road closures that can cause 2-to 4-hour travel delays, which can cause traffic to back up in the neighborhoods at the entrance of the canyon.
  • There are roadway elements that do not meet current design standards; for example, shoulders that are too narrow, and horizontal and vertical curves that are too steep and/or sharp.
  • Vehicles parked on the shoulder force cyclists and pedestrians into the roadway travel lane, which is a safety concern. The on-road parking also damages the pavement edge, thereby increasing soil erosion into nearby streams.
  • There are limited parking and restroom facilities at trailheads to support recreation in the canyon.
  • Commuter traffic on Wasatch Boulevard results in congestion on weekdays.

Other Points Of Interest/Consideration

  • With the projected levels of population increase in both Salt Lake and Utah County’s –– 36% and 108% respectively –– much of UDOT’s proposals seems to revolve around solving congestion issues in the Canyons as this affects both commuter traffic along Wasatch Boulevard and tourist traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon. As the report states, “any issues in the canyon can have major impacts on the mobility to get from the canyon to connecting roads.”
  • The LCC EIS repeatedly mentions Senate Bill 277, which passed the State of Utah legislature in 2017. As the EIS states, this bill is meant to provide funding “for transportation improvement projects that ‘have a significant economic development impact associated with recreation and tourism within the state’ and that ‘address significant needs to congestion mitigation.’” As well, the EIS mentions how despite a lack of quantitative data, ski industry experts surmise that the current congestions issues in the Canyons have “substantial effects on skier days and potential revenue.”
  • Interestingly, UDOT reports that 78% of skiers arrive at the Canyon resorts by private or rental vehicle. However, the EIS also mentions that during the winter of 2016/2017 when UTA revised the bus service in the Canyons and increased the frequency of trips, they saw a 26% increase in ridership. The report also mentions the lack of reliable summer bus service in the Canyons currently and the parking (and safety) issues this creates.
  • UDOT states that the Avalanche Hazard Index (AHI) for Little Cottonwood Canyon is exceptionally high “because increased vehicle use results in a higher risk.” The report also mentions how the design of SR-210 is challenging for drivers, which results in crashes that affect traffic and congestion. Furthermore, the EIS acknowledges that parking capacity in the Canyons, as mandated by the current Forest Plan, cannot be modified except for watershed protection or to facilitate mass transit.

Given this information, we encourage UDOT to find a solution that improves visitor safety and supports a healthy watershed, air quality, and user experience.

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