The Utah Department of Transportation’s current deliberations over whether to build a gondola or widen the road to help solve the traffic problem on peak winter days in Little Cottonwood Canyon is a lose-lose proposition. Both are extremely expensive and risky solutions which ignore other practical, low-cost solutions. UDOT, which answers to the Utah Legislature, has been asked to decide between two bad options which can only be seen as cynical and self-dealing on the part of current and former government officials. 

Building the world’s longest gondola up a narrow pristine canyon (gondolas in Europe exist not as road replacements, but to get to the top of mountains), would be fiscally irresponsible and a glaring misuse of taxpayer funds. It reminds me of the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska and would lead to a similar national embarrassment. 

Other editorialists have pointed out that the initial capital cost would likely exceed $1B billion rather than the estimated $600 million projected by the developer.

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As a business owner here in Utah, I have hired hundreds of employees and will hire many more in the future. Our public infrastructure is in need of serious improvement, which is a detriment to business owners who hope to attract employees to a state where government officials are attuned to prioritizing transportation projects that benefit the entire Salt Lake Valley. 

The gondola, on the other hand, is a pork-barrel project that primarily benefits two ski resorts and the owners of the land at the proposed gondola base who include Snowbird and former local and state government officials. Should we as taxpayers support this welfare financing?

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As a business owner, I strive to grow my business by undertaking projects which I can afford, and responsibility manage. I don’t expect government subsidies, and neither should Snowbird and Alta. The family that owns Snowbird is worth billions, and if they feel strongly that this would help their business, they should be willing to expend the funds rather than expect taxpayers, the vast majority of whom will never benefit from the gondola, to foot the bill. 

If the Legislature surrenders to pressure and prioritizes the gondola over more urgent and worthy projects, like the East/West transportation bottleneck we have in the Salt Lake Valley and improving the FrontRunner, it will be a disastrously poor bargain for the vast majority of Utah citizens.

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The problem that UDOT is being asked to solve is a bottleneck in the canyon that happens 15 to 20 winter days a year when skiers are trying to get to Snowbird and Alta. This means that the gondola would serve its primary purpose for less than 5% of the 365 days a year.

But it would be an eyesore for visitors 100% of the days!

Solutions like variable tolling, and incremental buses on the existing road should be experimented with before opening a fiscal and environmental Pandora’s box.  

If they were honest about the project, the gondola builders would admit that users would have to park at satellite parking lots, take buses to the gondola base, then take a 35-minute ride on the gondola. No reasonable calculation would put the total transportation time at less than an hour, which is basically the time it currently takes to drive up the canyon on peak powder days.

Switching transportation between cars, buses and a gondola is something most Americans wouldn’t be willing to do. At best, this is a risky gambit that would never be funded if the investors were anyone other than taxpayers. 

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In the propaganda the gondola developers have been pushing, they argue that the gondola is a “comfortable” and “green” solution.

Devastating the canyon that is the jewel of the majestic Wasatch range so that skiers can be more “comfortable” does not even merit argument, because its cynicism is so evident. 

The gondola is the worst form of exploitation of Utah’s natural environment imaginable. I wonder just how much destruction we plan to impose on the fragile Wasatch range and its watershed before citizens finally stand up and say “Enough!” The mountains of Utah deserve a transportation solution that is worthy of their majesty, which means that the gondola should not even be considered by UDOT and the legislature. 

Talley Goodson is a longtime resident of Utah who has started and run companies such as 3form, Inc. and Felt Right. Goodson is also an avid outdoorsman, having hiked, biked, and skied extensively in the Wasatch Mountains.