October 05, 2020

UDOT Deja Vu and CWC Alternative Plans for the Canyons

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First, we had the collapse of the Cottonwood Canyons Transportation Action Plan, the ignorance of UDOT's Little Cottonwood Canyon Environmental Impact Study (LCC EIS), and now we’re back dealing with the Central Wasatch Commissions (CWC) has released its Mountain Transportation System (MTS) alternative draft plan. Once you start reading the MTS alternative draft plans you will have the sense of Deja vu from how it echoes the same ideals and list of alternatives as the UDOT Little Cottonwood Canyon EIS. Sadly, the CWC tries to lure us into how this will create an interconnective regional system economy, but the MTS draft was focused around UDOT’s perspectives of the Central Wasatch Canyons needing more infrastructure, roads, and everything leading to the ski resorts. This MTS draft wants us to believe that to have a regional economy there has to be expansive and environmental destructive development, but this draft neglects that there are various approaches that don’t require massive development projects and that can be implemented by simpler improvements. So, as Carl Fisher discussed in July about the UDOT EIS draft, let’s examine the issues of the current MTS alternatives and understand the motivations of them.

Buses

Yes, the Salt Lake Valley is long overdue for an improved regional bus system, which SOC desires a simpler and sustainable bus alternative that is different from the current MTS Bus alternative plan. This alternative draft borrows the ideas of an improved bus network from UTA’s Short & Mid-Term service and strategic plan. Except, don’t forget that MTS alternative draft is focused around the UDOT’s EIS and UDOT isn’t a transit agency, but a road builder. So, MTS Bus alternatives are faulted with many UDOT drive infrastructure and road developments.   

  • Constructing Snow Shelter along Hwy 210
  • Millcreek Canyon Parking expansions
  • Adding a shoulder extension to SR210 from N. Little Cottonwood Canyon Rd. to Alta Bypass Rd
  • Creating extensions of lanes for SR 224 and 248

Additionally, the MTS Bus alternative draft kept the concept of tolling and there is a new concept that CWC introduced in this draft. Like in the original UDOT EIS draft, the MTS Bus alternative will use dynamic tolling to limit the number of cars by promoting high capacity vehicles and transit travel for free travel through tolls, while single passenger vehicles will have to pay. Tolling can be very effective, and it requires the use of technology to lessen reliance on infrastructure, but the MTS plan is using it to add more infrastructure projects along the canyon roads. There is at least one highlight of the MTS Bus alternative from them including some new parking reforms for ski resorts to charge paid parking and that there will be a reduction in on-road parking within the canyons. 

Lastly, SOC wants to address that the MTS Bus alternative plans need to be coupled with the fact that these canyons are a finite and fragile resource. We must approach any transit system with reducing our overuse, decreasing the car drive demands for transportation, and recognizing that further unneeded development will result in an ecosystem collapse. Furthermore, the current MTS Bus alternative is incorporated in parts of every other MTS alternative plans, but these plans get more naturally destructive and unsustainable to us all.

 

Gondolas

I didn’t know that the Little Cottonwood Canyon is becoming a theme park attraction? That is what the MTS Aerial/Bus alternative plan seems to be implying with adding a gondola and having massive transit hub parking lots. This alternative combines the MTS Bus alternative plan and includes a gondola. The idea of this gondola is to serve as a different form of transportation and decrease traffic going to the canyons, but the roads will remain open for large volumes of vehicles and there will still be expansions for transit lines. 

This MTS Bus/Aerial alternative isn’t necessary because it doesn’t have the capability to improve traveling from only carrying 1000 people per hour through this bus/aerial transport system during the winter and that it is only going straight to Snowbird and Alta snow resorts. This concept of a gondola is also a major hindrance to transit users and the flow of transportation from it having too many transfer points to get to one location. There is research that explains that if a transit system has 2 or more transfers, people won't use transit from it being too inconvenienced on how it interferes with our time restriction and transferring starts to feel overwhelming.

Moreover, the MTS Aerial/Bus alternative means that there will be construction within the Little Cottonwood Canyon to build the infrastructure needed for the gondola, which will displace local flora and fauna, disrupt habitats, and potentially interfere with recreation areas from the gondola being a big eyesore. Another environmental issue is that UDOT wants to also add snow sheds to these gondola stations, which would add further degradation to Little Cottonwood Canyon and impact local watersheds. 

Also, the only changes to the original UDOT EIS plan was incorporating the MTS Bus alternative and having the buses also stop at the gondola entrance station at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The MTS Aerial/Bus alternative plan is a double whammy from all the development mentioned before for the MTS Bus alternative and the additional infrastructures to have UDOT’s gondola.

 

Cog Rail System

Again, we have another theme park idea from UDOT, which combines the MTS Bus alternative and adds a cog rail system from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird and Alta ski resorts. The MTS Rail/Bus alternative is a mixed transit system approach with there being buses that stop at the rail transfer station at the canyon’s mouth, installing rail stations to get off at popular trailheads stops, and constructing transit lanes. The MTS Rail/Bus alternative will require a lot of expansive development and infrastructure for a rail system. So, SOC doesn't agree with the mixed transit system from how destructive the MTS rail/bus alternative is to the fragile canyons ecosystem, how it will industrialize these recreation spots into tourist traps, and that it only supports further unneeded development costing us the loss of these beautiful canyons. The cost alone would be $1.2 billion and the development needed for this rail system would be…

  • Double Electrified Rail along SR210
  • Single track for along the Little Cottonwood Road
  • Rail stops at popular recreation areas and trail heads
  • Corridors and Snow Sheds

The MTS Rail/Bus alternative will greatly harm the environment within Little Cottonwood Canyon from taking away local flora and fauna, disrupting habitats, contaminating watersheds, and interfering with certain species migrations. The MTS Rail/Bus alternative is another double whopper of a plan from all the developmental destruction mentioned before for the MTS Bus alternative, keeping these roads open or expanding them for more vehicles, and the additional destructive development for there to be a cog rail system. SOC wouldn’t support any over development plans, which we advocate for a simple bus transit system without development in the canyons and no cog rails or gondolas.

 

Sub Alternatives 

Now, the MTS alternative plans try to seem reasonable through destructive implications and development, but we do hope that even the CWC has a cap of allowed devastation and recognizing that these MTS sub alternative plans are overboard. These sub alternatives are updated proposals from UDOT after their EIS draft plans, which includes…

  • Transit Cottonwood Express tunnel from Alta to Brighton
  • Gondola between Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Canyon
  • Gondola between Big Cottonwood and Park City. 

I must give the CWC some credit for when they know something is too crazy of an opinion, they sure let you know. In the MTS Alternative draft plans, it tells you more about the drawbacks of these sub alternatives from them being too costly, disruptive to visual sensory, and negatively impactful to the watersheds, hydrology, wilderness, and sensitive landscapes. That could give us some hope that we can negotiate with CWC about the MTS alternative draft plans or these sub alternatives could just be a trick for us to accept one of the three destructive MTS alternative plans.  

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Overall, the current draft for the CWC MTS Alternative draft is pretty similar to the original UDOT EIS draft with a few twists of a lot more snow shed for all the alternative plans, parking reforms, a cog rail system straight to the ski resorts, and very destructive sub alternative plans. SOC wants to support the restoration of the canyons, safeguarding them from destructive industries, and preserving these canyons for all generations to always enjoy. The MTS alternative plans of adding more infrastructure along with allowing private vehicles to drive the road is not a solution or a supportable outcome. If you are feeling worried about the safety of our canyons or the degradation of the environment, then you're in luck. The Central Wasatch Commission (CWC) is having another public comment period that ends on Oct. 18th. This is the time to voice concerns about the MTS Alternative draft plans and ensure the sustainability of these canyons for the future.

 

CWC Public Comment 

Central Wasatch Commission’s MTS Alternative Draft Website

Save Our Canyons Original Overview

 

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