COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Workers and residents in the Cottonwood canyons may have an easier path to work and home thanks to a new program aimed at reducing congestion on powder days.
The state Department of Transportation and Unified Police Department on Wednesday launched a pilot program they believe will help improve traffic during major snow events in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. The agencies hosted an inspection and sticker distribution event where canyon residents and resort employees were able to have their vehicles checked to ensure they were in compliance with the snow tire and chain requirements.
Vehicles that pass inspection are issued a free sticker that enables them to bypass field inspections when the traction law is in effect on heavy snow days. The program was developed for people who travel up and down the canyons with the most frequency, Gleason said, such as residents of Alta, Brighton and employees of the ski resorts and nearby businesses.
Later this year, the two agencies will evaluate the results of the pilot program to determine if it could potentially expand, he added.
“The hope is that if it’s successful, it is going to be an innovative way to really cut down on congestion in the canyons during snowstorms because right now, every time it snows, you have a long line of traffic with people that are just waiting to get up to the ski resorts,” explained UDOT spokesman John Gleason. “We inspect as many vehicles as we can right now because the danger is if you let vehicles up there that aren’t able to handle the conditions, they are going to slide off and that’s going to cause even more congestion than just your typical slow and go traffic.”
“The goal of this program is to make life easier for people who are trying to navigate the canyons by letting the folks that are inspecting the vehicles know that this (stickered) vehicle has been inspected, it’s good to go and you can move on to the next one,” Gleason added.
He noted that, at this time, the sticker does not allow registered vehicles to have priority in line heading up the canyons and they could still be subject to inspection at the discretion of law enforcement on-site.
Gleason likened the local program to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration Pre-check program for air travel, where registered travelers can proceed through an expedited security check in airports across the country.
The canyon sticker program is conducted in partnership with Unified police who are in charge of traffic control into the canyons on snow days. Sgt. Ed Twohill said the inspections are used to determine a vehicle’s fitness for navigating snow- and ice-covered canyon roads.
“So, what we’re looking at as cars are coming up is the tires. We’re verifying if they are mud and snow tires, three peak tires, if the vehicle is two-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, if they have chains and we’re checking on the tread depth as well,” he explained.
A three-peak mountain snowflake symbol on a tire’s sidewall indicates the tire meets required performance criteria in snow testing to be considered severe snow service-rated, according to TireRack.com. He noted that on heavy snow days, approximately 4,500 vehicles travel into each Cottonwood canyon.
Having some vehicles already inspected will be a significant time-saving measure that will also help reduce pollution from scores of stationary idling vehicles.
“Ensuring that we’re getting the right vehicles with the right tires up there would alleviate a great deal of problems,” Twohill said.