Central Wasatch Commission shifts focus to transit solutions linking Wasatch Front and Wasatch Back
Central Wasatch transportation system seeks public comments
The deadline for comments on the scope and goals of a central Wasatch transportation system is March 1 and can be submitted by filling out a comment form at cwc.utah.gov, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending mail to the following address:
Central Wasatch Commission
41 N. Rio Grande St. Ste. 102
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
With its latest push for federal land protection legislation apparently on hold, the Central Wasatch Commission is pursuing a “reset” and a renewed emphasis on transportation solutions, according to the organization’s new chair, Summit County Councilor Chris Robinson.
“We’ve kind of become professional ‘meeting attenders,’” Robinson told his fellow county councilors at a meeting last month. “I’ve preached a sermon at the retreat and other meetings: This organization, the Central Wasatch Commission, has got to accomplish something. (We) can’t go on continuing meeting without results.”
Robinson said the federal legislation was “on the simmer heat” because of a lack of consensus around land swaps in the stalled legislation and is increasing its focus on transportation solutions.
The commission pushed draft legislation that would have swapped publicly owned land at ski resort base areas in the Cottonwood canyons in exchange for holdings on hillsides, which would then have been put under the management of the U.S. Forest Service. Robinson explained that the deal fell apart because of the disparity in value between choice land at base areas and steep and often-contaminated hillside land.
Pivoting to transportation, the commission is now soliciting public input on the “scope, attributes and goals” of a future transportation system to create or enhance transportation in the Cottonwood canyons and links to the Wasatch Back. The deadline is March 1. Comments can be submitted online or by mail.
“Over the course of 2020, the Central Wasatch Commission aims to arrive at a proposed comprehensive year-round transportation system that includes the Salt Lake Valley, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Parleys Canyon, and connections to the Wasatch Back,” commission documents state.
There will be several opportunities for public comment, including this summer about the “mode and management options.” Previously, the commission has discussed transportation modes including buses, trains and aerial transit like gondolas.
The Mountain Accord, which was signed by a diverse group of stakeholders in 2015, serves as a foundation and guide for the process. The accord specifically advocates maintaining Guardsman Pass as a seasonally closed road.
Park City Mayor Andy Beerman has said expanding Guardsman Pass Road into a full-time transit option is a non-starter for the city, and it would be, at the least, logistically challenging to widen the road and perform snow maintenance over the pass.
The stalled federal legislation specifically included language allowing for the study of aerial transit, though it required that it be used as a transportation system rather than a skier-dropoff system.
That means there likely won’t be a new tram dropping riders off on ridgelines in the Cottonwood canyons, though the door is open for a transportation system linking base areas.
A new transportation system would similarly have to provide year-round recreational access “while minimizing adverse impacts on the ecosystems and watershed of the Central Wasatch Mountains, is respectful of the users and uses, and sustains the vibrant economy,” according to commission documents.
The Summit County Council has contributed at least $200,000 to the regional planning body since 2013, when it was called the Mountain Accord. Councilors have indicated reluctance to keep paying for a process that has yielded dubious returns for the county.
Councilors have acknowledged the link between the Cottonwood canyons and Summit County’s ski areas, and that impacts on one side of the Wasatch are felt on the other. Summit County lands were also included in the proposed land swaps that have since hit a snag.
But the most tangible results to date seem to be a failed push for federal legislation and transit solutions that seem focused on the Wasatch Front, like improved ski buses in the Cottonwood Canyons.
One initial reason for the county joining the Mountain Accord was to support a $400,000 study of the Interstate 80 corridor and that joining gave the county a seat at the table to discuss regional issues.
The list of goals for the mountain transportation system process includes Summit County-specific items, including high-capacity transit in the Little Cottonwood Canyon/Big Cottonwood Canyon/Park City corridor, fast transit service from the airport to the Park City area via I-80 and improved transit service on U.S. 40 and I-80 between Quinn’s Junction and Kimball Junction.
Robinson said the commission would present an update on the transit plans at an upcoming County Council meeting. He indicated the commission is pivoting to a leaner operation focused on three initiatives: the federal legislation, transportation and special projects for short-term accomplishments.
Robinson said that, ideally, the transportation and legislation would advance along the same timeline and bring stakeholders on board.
“I think we’re on a course to figure some things out,” Robinson said. “(We’ve) sort of created an environment where, at least I think, the constituent members aren’t going to keep funding this if it’s just a bunch of meetings and studies. We’ve got a year laid out how each of these committees are going to accomplish goals.”
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