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Kristin Murphy/Deseret News

Heavy ski traffic highlights need for better canyon transportation options

By Jasen Lee  |  Posted Feb 5th, 2016 @ 6:21pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Sitting in the nearly mile-long line of vehicles slowly snaking up Little Cottonwood Canyon is a necessary evil for powder hounds anxious to hit the slopes.

The scenario is all too familiar to many who regularly endure the time-consuming, pollution-emitting journey to the Salt Lake Valley ski areas.

And it is something that has to be dealt with sooner rather than later, Mountain Accord project manager Laynee Jones said at a news conference Friday.

Jones and other Mountain Accord stakeholders convened in the Utah Transit Authority Park & Ride lot at the mouth of the canyon to highlight the pressing need for better transit options for users of the Cottonwood canyons.

"These problems are not going to fix themselves. We see the challenges today, and they are only going to get worse in the future," she said. "These are tricky problems to solve. But we want to implement practical and convenient solutions that reduce our impact when we head into the (mountains)."

Noting the exceptionally long line of vehicles, Jones said surveys have indicated that 77 percent of canyon users support additional public transportation options. She said the first solutions would likely involve adding more bus service and more parking areas throughout the valley.

A portion of the Mountain Accord's 2016 funding has been dedicated to developing four new bus routes for next ski season, Jones said.

"As soon as next year, we're going to have additional bus service," she said.

Mountain Accord is a 16-page, nonbinding document that represents the consensus positions of local policymakers and community leaders working to develop a long-term plan to manage transportation and conservation interests in the central Wasatch Mountains.

Officially signed by the governor and stakeholders last August, Mountain Accord seeks to balance the protection of water and land resources with projected population growth and economic expansion. It has no enforcement authority.

Some critics have expressed concerns that development could damage the natural environment of the canyons, but supporters believe solutions can be developed that would help mitigate traffic congestion while reducing pollution as more people visit canyon recreation areas and the local population grows in the years ahead.

"Today is a prime example of why we need to do something," said Ski Utah President and CEO Nathan Rafferty. "There is a foot of new snow, and everybody wants to (ski)."

Rafferty said working today to develop solutions to alleviate the traffic jams and accompanying pollution hazards is the only way to ensure that others will be able to enjoy the recreation areas in the future.

"The experience that we want to protect as part of Mountain Accord is being able to get in and out of these mountains easily," he said.

Besides more frequent bus routes, he said promoting carpooling is also a near-term objective.

"You can stand by the road and watch how many people go by one (occupant) at a time," Rafferty said. "There has to be a cultural shift in how we access the canyons."

Contributing: Jed Boal



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