Way We Were: The dream of the Wasatch Super-Tunnel | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: The dream of the Wasatch Super-Tunnel

The Wasatch “Super-tunnel” could have allowed some Park City mines to reopen through its drainage, created swifter travel between Wasatch front and back ski areas, and brought water to Salt Lake City.
Courtesy of James L. Hewitson

Nearly four decades after it was first proposed, the Park City—Alta tunnel idea was resurrected by United Park City Mines chief engineer, Reed Clawson, in what was dubbed the Lone Peak Project. Mr. Clawson drew plans for the “super-tunnel” as it was quickly nicknamed in the summer of 1987.

The twenty-mile-long “super-tunnel,” to be drilled through the granite of the Wasatch Mountains by giant tunnel-boring machines—called “moles”—from Draper to Park City, was estimated to cost half a billion dollars. UPCM and the Forest Service controlled about 80 percent of the land over the proposed tunnel route.

The lure of the “super-tunnel” for Clawson and United Park City Mines remained the 6.5 million tons of ore promised by the original tunnel project. According to the chief engineer, flooding was one of the reasons the mines shut down in 1983 and if drained by the big dig, they might be workable again. The anticipated recovery of 49.5 million ounces of silver valued at nearly $270 million dollars was enough to pique UPCM’s attention.

In addition, proponents of the plan publicized may of the same benefits ballyhooed in the Bureau of Mines’ 1949 proposal: water delivery to the Salt Lake Valley, power generation, and an improved Little Cottonwood sewer system that would accommodate greater canyon use and development.

One major add-on was the provision of public transportation for getting people up and down the canyons to Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, and Park City with less impact on canyon beauty. An electric light rail line through the “super-tunnel” linking the resorts to Salt Lake City appealed to the Utah Transit Authority and Snowbird president Rene Meyer. A Swiss native, Meyer declared: “The Alps are full of tunnels. There is good, reliable public transport there.”

The tunnel would terminate at the Silver King Mine shaft where a passenger lift of 2,981 feet would be constructed. Modeled after UPCM’s infamous Spiro Tunnel—Thaynes Shaft “skiers subway,” other passenger hoists would lift patrons to the surface at Snowbird, Alta, and Brighton. The Alta elevator would be equivalent to that in a 370 story building.

The “super-tunnel” was to be managed and controlled by an interlocal cooperative agency made up of municipal and political entities not bound by geographic boundaries but by a common interest. Park City and Summit County were tentatively included in the original organization along with the Central Utah Project, UTA, and Salt Lake City and County. Part of the financing for the hypothesized half billion dollar price tag was to come from revenue bonds. Former Utah governor Scott Matheson led the team looking at legal and public policy issues.

After busting upon the scene with great fanfare, fervor for the fascinating Wasatch “super-tunnel” concept, like the Park City—Alta tunnel idea, waned with time. Although technically possible, questions of practicality and cost ruled the day.

Some say the ore is still out there, others say it never was.

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