Revival of concept linking Park City and Cottonwood canyons by tunnel stuns Summit County Councilor
Summit County Councilor Doug Clyde says he was stunned at the mention of a tunnel connection between Park City and the Cottonwood canyons during elected officials’ meeting Wednesday with representatives of the Central Wasatch Commission.
The tunnel connection was one of the most contentious elements of the blueprint that was created during the Mountain Accord process. The accord started in 2012 as a collaborative effort to make long-term decisions regarding the central Wasatch Mountains as they relate to transportation, the environment, the economy and recreation. It eventually transformed into the Central Wasatch Commission.
Some of the transit improvements that were broached under the Mountain Accord were a light rail system that would travel up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Park City area, including tunnel connections between Alta, Big Cottonwood Canyon and Park City; a rapid transit bus traveling up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Park City area; and a rapid transit bus or light rail, but with an aerial connection such as a ski lift rather than a rail or tunnel connection.
Wasatch Back leaders did not support the concept of studying a tunnel connection and it was later scrapped. At least that’s what Clyde thought.
Clyde said he was surprised the connection was brought up again because he thought the matter was “dead and buried a long time ago.” He referred to it as impractical, both financially and logistically.
“It’s particularly disturbing to hear it brought up again because it makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “It was later qualified that the only reason it was being brought up is to ensure there was full and complete public input by all parties. There were some parties that were not identified that wanted to reopen that discussion. I don’t know who they are, but I don’t care.”
Jesse Dean, deputy director of the Central Wasatch Commission, and Chris McCandless, chair of the commission’s executive board and Sandy City Councilor, met with Summit County elected officials on Wednesday to provide a brief overview of the commission’s goals and what has been accomplished since it was first formed in 2017.
A portion of the discussion focused on transportation systems, including an environmental impact study the Utah Department of Transportation is leading that centers on transportation in the Cottonwood canyons. An open house was held in Salt Lake City on April 9 about the study. It was from that conversation that the tunnel connection was brought up.
“Several residents from Summit County participated and it was nice to see a dialogue related to the transportation issue,” said McCandless. “Seems opinion is split 50/50 about people wanting connections to Park City. But, we ultimately want to reflect Summit County’s values in this process.”
McCandless said it is time to decide what to do about transportation in that area of the central Wasatch Mountains. He added, “Whether or not it becomes over the snow or if there is a connection at all from Park City to the Cottonwoods.”
McCandless emphasized that he doesn’t support a tunnel either.
“But, that decision will be made, likely within the next month,” he said. “That is the definitive statement that has come from UDOT.”
Dean said Wednesday’s meeting was intended to provide elected officials with an opportunity to weigh in on the discussion.
“We are not tied to any of these alternatives,” he said.
Roger Armstrong, County Council chair, said he was also surprised the idea of a tunnel had been revived. He said he was under the impression that the transportation discussions within the Central Wasatch Commission would focus on ways to improve the Interstate 80 corridor into Park City.
Armstrong highlighted the development that is expected to take place in Sandy over the next several years, adding “I see why Sandy would be excited” about a connection.
“But, we were assured tunnels were off the table,” he said. “My concern was, at least on the transportation side, and still is the impact on Park City’s businesses if we have an easy way for people to escape Park City and go ski someplace else,” he said.
Other County Councilors weren’t against exploring a potential connection as long as it didn’t include a tunnel.
County Council member Glenn Wright voiced his support for an aerial connection over the Park City ridgeline into the Cottonwood canyons. He said residents would likely be “very interested” in the ability to ski between Park City and resorts in Salt Lake.
“I would be open to that option,” he said. “I think that is, personally, the best option on the table and I think we need a better solution. But, if you start talking tunnels you could be opening yourselves up to some lawsuits.”
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau and member of the Central Wasatch Commission stakeholder council, said he doesn’t have a strong opinion about a possible connection.
“I think it is an evolving landscape with the Epic and Ikon passes and how people are behaving on ski vacations,” he said. “I am definitely intrigued by how many people are going over to that side and going over to this side. But, I don’t have an opinion yet.”
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