FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

  • Provides a full and open evaluation of environmental issues and alternatives to aid decision-making.
  • Informs decision makers and the public of reasonable alternatives that could meet the project purpose, avoid or minimize adverse impacts and enhance the quality of the environment.
  • Describes the positive and negative environmental effects of alternatives.

An EIS is necessary to document the potential effects of proposed improvements as per federal laws and regulations. It is needed to fulfill all required environmental clearances, allocate funding and preserve land for a future project.

  • Scoping – Identify and gather public input about items to consider in the environmental study.
  • Purpose and Need – Define a statement of goals and objectives that the study will address (purpose), and identify the existing and future conditions that need to be changed (need).
  • Alternatives Development – Develop alternatives that meet the purpose and need.
  • Alternatives Analysis – Screen alternatives based on their potential impacts and how they meet the purpose and need; gather public input.
  • Analyze Impacts – Compare impacts of screened alternatives.
  • Environmental Resource Analysis – Quantify the effects to the social, economic and natural environment.
  • Draft EIS – Report findings and gather public input.
  • Final EIS – Submit document for the final decision-making process.
  • Record of Decision – A final decision is made and documented.
  • Water Quality
  • Air Quality
  • Property Impacts
  • Economic Impacts
  • Hazardous Waste Sites
  • Historic Properties
  • Land Use
  • Noise
  • Potential Construction Impacts
  • Social (e.g. emergency services, neighborhood unity and community character)
  • Wildlife
  • Wetlands
  • Visual
  • Threatened and Endangered Species
  • Minority and Low-Income Populations
  • Cumulative Impacts
  • Parks and Recreation Areas
  • In Senate Bill 277, the 2017 Legislature approved the use of $100 million for transportation improvements in areas with recreation and tourism activity that currently experience significant congestion.
  • With that criteria, UDOT established a prioritization process and the Transportation Commission identified four areas that warranted further evaluation, including Little Cottonwood Canyon.
  • Little Cottonwood Canyon was granted $66 million in funding.

MOBILITY IMPROVEMENT STRATEGIES

  • Parking and transit
  • Avalanche control
  • Roadway capacity and geometry
  • Intersection improvements
  • Tolling
  • Enhancements to park and rides
  • Increased transit service
  • Summer transit service in Little Cottonwood Canyon with gondola and cog rail alternatives
  • Improved trailhead amenities and formalized parking within the canyon
  • Snow sheds located at White Pine Chutes, Little Pine and White Pine avalanche chutes due to the frequency of avalanches and proximity to the road of these slide paths. Avalanche control closures could be reduced with implementation of snow sheds over the road in these strategic locations.
  • Snow sheds would allow avalanche debris to flow over structures that would protect vehicles underneath.
  • Other options such as bridging and road realignment are also being investigated.
  • Adding capacity to the existing roadway is a strategy under consideration for S.R. 210.
  • The EIS study area extent of S.R. 210 is characterized as a blend of an urban commuter corridor and a rural mountain roadway. Both experience congestion due to different reasons.
  • The study team will be evaluating traffic at a 2050 horizon for these sections of roadway. This means that the evaluation will take into consideration planning based on growth projections through 2050.
  • Measures to reduce single occupancy vehicle traffic in the canyon during peak use.
  • Tolling is a strategy to change behavior, revenue is a by-product.
  • It is unknown at this point in the project how potential tolling revenue would be utilized or allocated.
  • No. As part of the University of Utah student project analysis, the Little Cottonwood Creek trail (sometimes referred to as the Quarry Trail) that runs from the Temple Quarry parking to the Lisa Falls trailhead was originally proposed to be a paved, two-way trail. After input from stakeholders, the students removed this proposal from their final report. The other trail beginning at the Temple Quarry parking lot, Temple Quarry Nature Trail, is already paved and used as a nature trail.
  • The EIS is not considering off-highway trails for improvement.

The Record of Decision (ROD) is the next and final step in the EIS process. The ROD will identify the final alternative and is anticipated to be issued in the winter of 2022/2023.

Implementation of the selected alternative may only occur after the ROD is issued and when federal, state and/or private funding is identified.

The EIS team will review previous studies and public involvement efforts carried out by a range of agencies and stakeholders regarding potential transportation improvements in the project study area, and will develop and evaluate a range of alternatives that reduce congestion and improve recreation and tourism experiences in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Per NEPA guidelines, the study team will evaluate all reasonable alternatives brought forward during the scoping period.

  • The underlying purpose of the EIS is not to increase or decrease the number of people in the canyon. Rather, the purpose is to solve a transportation issue that affects local travel and recreation and tourism experiences. The EIS will evaluate potential improvements that reduce peak travel time congestion for residents, visitors and commuters in Little Cottonwood Canyon and surrounding areas.
  • Funding granted to this project is to help improve and maintain economic and recreation opportunities in the canyon.
  • The purpose of the EIS is not to increase or decrease the number of people in the canyon. Rather, the underlying purpose is to solve a transportation issue that affects local travel and recreation and tourism experiences.
  • The USDA Forest Service has determined that many areas on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest may handle increased use, without significant resource impacts, while maintaining quality recreation experiences for visitors, and is therefore not presently considering limiting access. A current limiting factor is infrastructure, including parking, roads and restrooms. The USDA Forest Service will continue to monitor uses in the canyon, and implement additional management measures to limit resource impacts from visitor use at specific locations in the future, as determined necessary.

It is unknowable at this point of the study.  This option, along with the other strategies, will be evaluated throughout the process. Parking capacity on National Forest Service lands within the canyon is managed in accordance with the 2003 Revised Wasatch-Cache Forest Plan; primarily for watershed protection. Parking within UDOT’s existing easement for S.R. 210, and on lands that may be appropriated by the Federal Highway Administration as a result of this EIS, is managed by UDOT.

UDOT identified the preferred primary alternative based on its transportation performance, cost, and impacts to the natural and human environment. As part of identifying the preferred primary alternative, UDOT considered public and agency input during the scoping process, purpose and need development, the alternatives development, screening, and refinement process, and on the Draft EIS.

Based on the evaluation, UDOT identified Gondola Alternative B as its preferred primary alternative. UDOT primarily based the decision on Gondola Alternative B providing the best overall reliability. Other factors in making the decision are described below. 

  • Travel Reliability. The alternative would have a high travel reliability because it would be on a separate alignment from the road. Snow, vehicle slide offs and crashes, and snow- and avalanche removal operations would not affect the gondola service. If S.R. 210 were closed because of an avalanche debris or vehicle crash, the gondola could still operate and be used as an alternate to personal vehicle use.  
  • Transit Mode Travel Time. The alternative would have a better transit mode travel time with transfers than Gondola Alternative A (4 to 8 minutes shorter) and the same travel time as the Cog Rail Alternative. The advantage of Gondola Alternative B over Gondola Alternative A is that the 2,500 parking spaces at the gondola base station. This would reduce one of the mode transfers and save time, and would lower the winter operational and maintenance cost of this alternative by $3.6 million per year. With the exception of the Enhanced Bus Service in Peak-period Shoulder Lane Alternative, all travel times are very similar.  
  • Delay Due to Snow Removal Operations. The alternative would not delay or be delayed by UDOT’s snow-removal operations. Both enhanced bus service alternatives could be delayed by snow-removal operations. For the Cog Rail Alternative, snow removed from the cog rail tracks would need to be blown onto S.R. 210, which would require UDOT to spend additional time for snow removal. In addition, when snow is blown off the tracks, this would temporarily close S.R. 210. The snowblowing operation could occur during the early morning before peak travel periods. If an avalanche flow covers the rail tracks, cog rail operations would be delayed until the avalanche flow is cleared.  
  • Environment. Of the five primary alternatives, Gondola Alternative B would have lower impacts to wildlife habitat compared to the Enhanced Bus Service in Peak-period Shoulder Lane Alternative and the Cog Rail Alternative. The alternative would have the second-fewest impacts to climbing resources in Little Cottonwood Canyon and would have low impacts to the watershed because there would be no substantial increase in the amount of impervious surfaces in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The alternative along with the Enhanced Bus Service Alternative would also have the lowest impact to riparian habitat conservation areas.  
  • Cost. The total capital cost of the Gondola B Alternative is $550 million. This includes the cost of tolling infrastructure, transit parking, adding snow sheds, addressing trailhead parking and widening Wasatch Boulevard, which are common to all alternatives. Winter operations and maintenance will cost $4 million per year, and if summer service was implemented, the annual operations and maintenance would increase by another $3 million. While the initial construction cost is the third highest of the alternatives, the overall 30-year life cycle cost is the lowest.

Gondola B would construct a base station with 2,500 parking spaces near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Each gondola cabin would hold up to 35 people, and travelers could expect a cabin to arrive every two minutes. 

Overall, UDOT believes that Gondola Alternative B best meets the project purpose of improving reliability because it can operate independently of S.R. 210 and avoid delays related to snow removal, avalanche removal, and traffic.

Recognizing that safety, mobility and reliability are issues on S.R. 210 today, and that it may take years to secure federal, state and/or private funding for full implementation of the Gondola B Alternative, UDOT is proposing a phased implementation plan starting with components of the Enhanced Bus Service. 

The proposed phasing would include increased and improved bus service as described in the Enhanced Bus Service Alternative (with no canyon roadway widening), tolling or restrictions on single occupancy vehicles, and the construction of mobility hubs. UDOT would also proceed with widening and other improvements to Wasatch Boulevard, constructing snow sheds, and implementing trailhead and roadside parking improvements, as funding allows. 

These improvements will improve air quality, protect the watershed, and increase the quality of life for residents and canyon users by reducing traffic congestion as private vehicles shift to transit.

A 45-day public review and comment period of the Final EIS will be open Sept. 2 to Oct. 17, 2022. UDOT is accepting comments that relate to the identified preferred alternative, new and updated information from the Draft EIS to the Final EIS, the assessment of the environmental impacts of the preferred primary and sub-alternatives, the proposed phasing plan, and the mitigation of potential impacts. The public may submit comments through the project website, email, written letters, voicemail and text message. 

Once the public comment period has ended, UDOT will consider all comments received on the Final EIS when deciding which alternative and sub-alternatives are selected in the Record of Decision (ROD). 

The ROD, as the next and final step in the EIS process, will identify the final alternative and is anticipated to be issued in the winter of 2022/2023. Implementation of the selected alternative may only occur after the ROD is issued and when federal, state and/or private funding is identified.