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County announces completion of canyon transportation studies

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SALT LAKE CITY — Driving to a ski resort already can be a headache, and with the population of the Salt Lake Valley expected to double in the next 30 years, how will the Wasatch Front accommodate even more people trying to hit the slopes?

Findings from three studies focused on the future of transportation in Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood and Mill Creek canyons were announced Wednesday by Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

"It's because our canyons are so desirable that we have to prepare to accommodate our residents and the visitors," Corroon said Wednesday morning at the Old Mill Golf Course, 6080 Wasatch Blvd.

The current transportation system in the three canyons, as described by Corroon, is a red snake that goes up the canyons.

"What that means is that we've got fresh snow from the night before and plenty of people who want to get up there and ski," he said. "But there is limited parking, and of course there are limited ways to get up the mountain."

The three studies that were completed, the mountain transportation study, canyon parking study and Mill Creek Canyon alternate transportation study, each made both short- and long-term recommendations for accommodating an increasing number of residents and tourists who want to use the canyons.

Recommendations include a summer shuttle project in Mill Creek Canyon and moving forward with a large national Environmental Protection Act process for projects in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, Corroon said.

Because much of the land in the canyons is on federal land the county has to work with NEPA to decide how much they will cost and the environmental impact that they will have.

The mountain transportation study recommended that short-term projects be considered, emphasizing watershed, land use, transportation and economic opportunities.

The canyon parking study recommended constructing a new park-and-ride near the existing gravel pit on Wasatch Boulevard; paving and striping new parking near dispersed recreation areas; improving trailhead parking lots; restricting shoulder parking near Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon; and improving parking near Wasatch and Fort Union boulevards.

The Mill Creek Canyon study recommended the implementation of a summer shuttle system as a pilot project, a real-time parking information system that would tell people what spots are open, uphill bike lanes and advance warning signs.

"We want to be able to provide people that access, but at the same time, we have to be really careful about making sure that we are not damaging what we love as we are using it," said Andrew Gruber of the Wasatch Front Regional Council. "This effort that we are engaged in … is unique and it breaks the mold for anything that we have done here in Utah before."

The studies are part two of a four-step process of planning and building for the future in the three canyons. Next is the environmental phase, which will determine the economic and environmental impacts of the recommendations. A decision on the recommendations will follow the environmental work.

Corroon encouraged Salt Lake County to be involved in the process by visiting www.wasatchsummit.org.

"(The) Salt Lake Valley is going to double in population in the next 30 years, so we are going to see an entirely new looking valley," he said. "We are also going to see an entirely new way of getting up the canyon in the next 10 or 20 years."

Twitter: @FinleyJY