Collaboration happening on mountain transportation issues
September 24, 2013
A concerted effort has been undertaken by entities across the Wasatch Mountains to address current and future transportation issues related to ski resorts, wilderness areas, watersheds and more.
The Wasatch Summit Interlocal Agreement was created just for this purpose and includes the involvement of parties such as Summit County, Wasatch County, the Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City and Alta, among others.
The Summit County Council will be voting on whether to participate in the agreement or not during this Wednesday’s meeting. Summit County is being asked to pledge $50,000 for Phase I of the process, a two-year period. The State of Utah, through the Department of Transportation, is pledging $2.6 million. The Park City Municipal Corporation has already pledged $100,000 to the process.
The first phase of the Wasatch Summit process will look at the various issues related to the use and conservation of the Wasatch Mountains, analyzing the economic impacts of the program and conducting environmental studies while also looking at a range of different land use, watershed protection and transportation alternatives.
Summit County Council member Chris Robinson, a representative on the Executive Committee, explained some of the issues at stake, especially related to the nearby ski resorts.
"How do we connect the resorts and get people in and out of those seven resorts and backcountry areas in the most environmentally sensitive way that also allows those businesses to grow?" Robinson said in an interview with The Park Record.
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Robinson said that all of the parties involved have an interest in the Wasatch Mountains; in particular, those that are adjacent to Salt Lake and Summit Counties where there are critical watersheds and an interest in maintaining and sustaining wilderness space.
Alta Mayor Tom Pollard said the Wasatch Summit is particularly important to his town because it has one canyon that is solely accessible by a two-lane road which has been at or above capacity for the last 20 years.
"Any time that we’re dealing with projections in the future of growth in the valley and of the increasing demand it will put on the mountain resorts, we need an effective, efficient and environmentally sound way of getting people in and out of the canyon," Pollard said in an interview with The Park Record.
Robinson said the committee will utilize a wide-scoping process to analyze the best ways to access all of the canyons in the Wasatch Mountains, whether through existing surface streets, mass transit, light rail or other mediums. The first phase of the process would be consistent with the Federal Transit Administration’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
"This would be an alternative to each resort doing its own thing," Robinson said. "It’s about finding a way so that we still find a balanced way to use [the resorts], grow our business in them and protect them."
Addressing environmental concerns while maintaining an atmosphere still conducive to economic growth and development is crucial, Pollard says. Looking at the impacts of projects such as Ski Link will be important as well, he said. He envisions an effective transportation system that would link Park City with the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Salt Lake City and Parley’s Canyon.
"If you look at the demand and the population projections show four million people in the valley in the next 20 to 30 years it wouldn’t be right for us to ignore that at this point," Pollard said.
Pollard said that UTA will play a significant role in the process. He thinks that finding some way to "get people out of their cars" is the gist of the project.
"We deal with some of the worst air in the nation in some of those winter days. If you could get some people out of their cars and into a transit-type situation, I think that’s a win-win for everybody," Pollard said.
Pollard has been pleased with the diversity of voices he has seen throughout this process and is confident that everyone’s input has been gathered. He looks forward to the next step of the process.
"It’s been bought into by many different avenues of opinion from the backcountry users to the watershed people, to environmentalists, to municipalities and public transportation," Pollard said. "This is one of the first times on a scale as broad as this that we’ve gotten a buy in from many different agencies."
The Summit County Council will be voting on whether to approve the Wasatch Summit Interlocal Agreement during this Wednesday’s County Council meeting at the County Courthouse, 60 N. Main St., Coalville. The item is expected to be taken up at 4:50 p.m.
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