Salt Lake County Council members on Tuesday lauded plans for a comprehensive study of regional transportation flows around the central Wasatch Mountains, with a particular focus on traffic in Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood canyons.
But knowing a solution to traffic circulation issues will be extremely complex, and that numerous alternatives will be analyzed in the impending "Wasatch Summit" environmental impact statement (EIS), council members asked for regular briefings on the project.
"The devil is in the details," said Councilman Michael Jensen, who represents Magna and the northwestern part of the valley. "Our opportunity for input is on the front end."
The front end is rounding into shape, county environmental coordinator Kimberly Barnett told the council. The selection of a project facilitator who will "keep everyone on the same page and moving forward" is expected by July 19, she said.
That choice will be made by an executive committee of major stakeholders in the project, from the U.S. Forest Service and Utah Department of Transportation to Salt Lake County, the ski resorts and conservation groups. The county is represented by Mayor Ben McAdams.
The executive committee is a holdover from an earlier county process that produced three studies in 2012 that looked at transportation in the Cottonwood canyons, parking in and around them, and Mill Creek Canyon.
The executive committee's support staff also is finishing a request for a proposal (RFP) for a consultant to prepare the two-phase EIS. Phase one, which will establish the purpose and need for the EIS, is expected to take 18 to 24 months and cost about $4.5 million, Barnett said.
She did not cite a cost for phase two, which will require two to three more years to examine options and pick a preferred alternative with light or heavy rail, gondolas, express buses, snowsheds all figuring in as potential solutions.
"This is an incredibly formal process," Barnett noted, "and will be a holistic evaluation of all issues in the central Wasatch Mountains."
Council chairman Steve DeBry, of South Jordan, said that dealing with the canyons' long-term issues has been one of his primary concerns since joining the council in 2009.
"How many people can our canyons accommodate? That bottle can only hold so much water and it's going to overflow. We can't make our canyons any bigger," he said. "It's ominous. I applaud you for this. We need to look at all solutions because [the canyons] are so vital."
At-large Councilman Jim Bradley concurred with DeBry, adding "we have a responsibility to answer that question: 'What is the appropriate capacity of the canyons?' … How many people do we want up there at any given time and how does our transportation system help or hurt that?"
O The website for this comprehensive planning effort for the central Wasatch Mountains is www.wasatchsummit.org.