Politics

UDOT’s Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola now faces mega lawsuit

SANDY, Utah — Multiple lawsuits against the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) merged this week in an effort to save the court time and resources as the fight against the Little Cottonwood Canyon Gondola continues.

The group who filed the lawsuits, now called the Coalition for Common Sense(CCS) insisted UDOT take immediate action to resolve the traffic that has long plagued Little Cottonwood Canyon CCS.CCS says UDOT should address the issue now, while litigation is ongoing.

For their part, UDOT has stated the ongoing lawsuit bans them from addressing the traffic concerns in Little Cottonwood Canyon until litigation is over.

However, a bill passed before the gondola was decided on shows that funding is available now and more busses and routes could be added in both canyons.

The lawsuits accuse UDOT of violating environmental policy with its decision to opt for a gondola to mitigate traffic in the canyon. The gondola, which is now estimated at $1.4 billion – up from an original estimate of $560 million in taxpayer dollars to build – has numerous downsides, according to CCS.

The proposed gondola would not run in bad weather, it would not be faster than driving up the canyon, a ticket for a single passenger could cost between $90-$200 and the gondola would not run during avalanche mitigation, according to the Save Our Canyons website.

Patrick Shea, an attorney representing Friends of Alta said UDOT’s gondola decision would be constructed using public funds to benefit a small crowd of people.

“They want to spend 1.4-billion of your taxpayer dollars to build a gondola that will only service three private, for-profit ski resorts, and it will totally blemish the skyline,” Shea said.

What’s more, the Environmental Impact Statement UDOT submitted on the gondola failed to address several issues that would violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The CCS lawsuit claims building the gondola would harm federally protected golden eagle nests and damage both the quality and volume of water that flows out of Little Cottonwood Canyon that Salt Lake City and Sandy rely on.

The construction of 22 towers over 200 feet high will permanently disrupt trailheads, recreation areas, climbing routes, and the breathtaking views we love. Construction debris will jeopardize our critical watershed that supplies more than 60% of the Salt Lake Valley’s water, in the midst of an already historic drought,” a statement on Save Our Canyons’ website reads.

The lawsuit also claims that UDOT violated federal transportation laws by not taking the public’s opinion into account and going beyond their authority to make a final decision that would greatly affect how taxpayer dollars are spent.

80% of Utahns oppose the gondola, according to a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. 

UDOT Project Manager Josh Van Jura told KSL News in 2022,  the gondola could transport more than 5000 people per hour and could ease congestion up the canyon by 30%.

UDOT chose a gondola as the solution to gridlock traffic and pollution instead of widening the canyon road to four lanes.

It would take up to three years to install the gondola, which would begin at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and run to Alta Ski Area at the top of the canyon.

Van Jura said in the meantime there would be phasing like increased bus service, tolling or restrictions on single occupancy vehicles and widening Wasatch Boulevard.

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