Becker said the growing traffic congestion problem in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons is reaching a critical point.
"The congestion used to occasionally be on weekend winter days, but now it's virtually every weekend during the winter and increasingly summer days," Becker said. "Traffic congestion in these canyons is not only bad and creates a lot of inconvenience in getting up and down the canyons, but as a public safety matter it is incredibly serious as these are high avalanche areas. The last thing I think any of us want to see is a major disaster when there are a lot of cars stuck on those roads."
To combat the problem, Becker said they should pursue an integrated transportation system that will work for everyone's benefit and serve visitors as well as local needs. This plan could include connecting the ski resorts above land.
"My personal view is we would benefit enormously by having a connected ski area system at the top of the Wasatch and by having our communities connected well," Becker said.
Becker addressed SkiLink, a controversial proposal to connect the Canyons and Solitude Mountain Resorts by gondola. Becker said SkiLink caught Salt Lake City by surprise when it was announced, as they were never contacted about the proposal, but instead found out about the legislation through the media.
SkiLink depends on a congressional bill that would make it possible for federal land needed for the connection to be sold to Talisker* Mountain Inc.
Rather than linking two resorts, or each jurisdiction creating its own transportation plan, Becker proposed Summit County work with Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, the U.S. Forest Service, ski resorts, environmental groups and other local municipalities to create a comprehensive transportation plan involving all the ski resorts.
"One the problems right now is that there are literally dozens of different proposals, whether they are wilderness proposals, ski proposals or transportation proposals," Becker said. "And they are all in their own decision world. Some of them are on our side of the mountain and many on your side of the mountain."
Cooperation among local groups, as well as state and federal entities, is at the core of Becker's proposed program. Instead of being a top-down approach, Becker called it a bottom-up approach.
"It was important to us that it wasn't a federally-driven process," Becker said. "What really scares us is when we see congress come in and say, here is what your solution is, and that triggers everything else."
Becker said he has talked with every one of the major local jurisdictions, including the state, about participating in the plan.
"I hate to say, but of the major players, you are the last folks we are visiting with," Becker told the council. "And I think not only is everybody willing, but they look forward to this sort of a comprehensive look at where we're going, what's going to work best and all looking at the same information."
Though Summit County waqtershed does not face the same potential impacts as Salt Lake's, it does have an interest in tourism, which has the potential to be enhanced by the Mountain Transportation Plan, according to Council Member Sally Elliot.
"We don't have much watershed interest; that's critical for you," Elliott said. "We have recreational and open land interests for local residents, and some of our water comes from the back of the Wasatch, but that's not our biggest interest. Having the transportation system works for us because of our shared interest in providing destination opportunities for guests."
Becker agreed that there are economic benefits of an international destination with connected resorts for not only Park City, but for all the entities.
"People can fly into the Salt Lake Airport and have any kind of experience they want with skiing and resorts," Becker said. "They can stay in downtown and be in the resorts, they can stay in Park City and be in the resorts, and they can also have the mountain experience and stay at Snowbird or wherever else. It's a combination of opportunities that's probably unparalleled anywhere in the world."
The proposed solution does not come free, however. Becker said his city is looking at a study that could cost six figures, but hasn't nailed down a number yet.
"We are expecting everyone who participates to put something in," Becker said. "It doesn't need to be big. It's relative to budgets and ability, but this is going to be a big effort and cost a fair amount of money."
Becker said he plans to bring all the participating entities together at the beginning of next month to determine the process, scope and budget. The project in total should take three years, he said.