Wednesday, April 23, 2014

UDOT to study costs of keeping high mountain passes open during winter

By Jed Boal, Deseret News

Published: Sat, Dec. 28 12:49 a.m. MST

 The Big Mountain Pass that runs through East Canyon and Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City is photographed on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. The Utah Department of Transportation is considering keeping eight mountain passes open during the winter.

The Big Mountain Pass that runs through East Canyon and Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City is photographed on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. The Utah Department of Transportation is considering keeping eight mountain passes open during the winter.

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — What would it take to keep some of Utah’s high mountain passes open during the winter? And would it be worth it?

The Utah Department of Transportation hopes a $200,000 study will answer those questions.

John Woeste loves to cross-country ski on Big Mountain Highway when it's closed and the snow is groomed.

"It's basically the mountain solitude and a heck of a nice workout," he said.

Snowshoers enjoy the clean air, and snowmobilers like the quick access.

But if UDOT plowed the road, Woeste doesn’t believe there are that many people who would travel the road in the winter for commuting or commerce.

“If there was a compelling reason to have the egress over to the other side, then I would have to say, 'What’s fair?’ But I don’t know that that many people would go up there in the wintertime,” he said.

Cory Pope, program development director for UDOT, said historically because of heavy snowpack and limited use during wintertime, the roads close shortly after Thanksgiving, depending on the weather.

The routes that have seasonal closures extend from the top of Utah with state Route 39 Monte Cristo Highway (east of Ogden); state Route 65 the Big Mountain Highway (East Canyon from Morgan to the Wasatch Front); state Route 150 Mirror Lake Highway (east of Kamas to Bear River Lodge); state Route 35 Wolf Creek Pass (Woodland to Tabiona); state Route 92 American Fork Canyon/Alpine Loop (Utah County); state Route 153 Mount Holly Junction (east of Beaver), state Route 190 Guardsman Pass (Big Cottonwood Canyon to Park City) and state Route 143 in Parowan.

Every year, the department receives requests from residents who live off of seasonally closed routes interested in keeping them open during the winter or longer. Pope said it isn’t something UDOT currently budgets.

The goal of the study is to find out what it would really take to keep the roads open; would UDOT need additional buildings, additional personnel and additional equipment to clear the roads?

Safety is a key priority, and keeping the roads plowed can be tricky. “There are some hairpin turns that on the surface don’t seem like much, but the plow drivers are very adamant that those are areas they can’t even get a plow around,” Pope said.

It can cost more than $10,000 just to clear the snow from one storm on any of the roads in the study.

The study will also look to see if the positives of keeping a high mountain pass open would outweigh the negatives.

The Mirror Lake Highway and Monte Cristo Highway are very popular for snowmobilers.

“(Keeping the road open) would serve very few for commuter traffic, but it has a very high potential for recreational value there,” Pope said.

UDOT knows opening those two highways may not be practical or popular.

"In order to keep any mountainous road open, you have to stay on top of it all year-round,” Pope said.

The Utah Transportation Commission has funded the $200,000 study. It hopes to have preliminary results in February and a completed study in the spring.


1. Oatmeal
Woods Cross, UT,
Dec. 27, 2013

Do we really want large numbers of unprepared and untrained recreating in the back country because they can easily drive in? How many people, who ignored weather warnings, will we have to go in and rescue?

Keep them closed.

2. Biffmac
Dec. 27, 2013

The amount of recreational use on Big Mountain (SR65) when closed is amazing both motorized and non-motorized. Cyclists use it in the spring and skiers, hikers and hunters use it in the winter. The road really goes nowhere (Morgan has better access through Ogden Canyon) and people can go down Jeremy Road as an it is a perfect one to leave as is and not waste $10K per storm to keep it open. Also the south side of the mountain gets very active drifting, so plows would be needed frequently.

I say keep it closed and let people have a place to play that is free of charge. I was up there the last day it was open and two plows were stuck up there. There are no guardrails on many hairpin corners. SR65 is the last road to keep open. Let it be.

3. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Dec. 27, 2013

Should not even be worth studying.

After all, with all the global warming headed our way snow will only be a dim memory among old timers within a year or two. Al Gore said so.

4. No One Of Consequence
West Jordan, UT,
Dec. 27, 2013

Apparently the legislature allocated $200,000 too much to UDOT this year.

Residents (aka campaign contributors) who live or vacation along these winter-closed routes already know what it takes to access their residences - snowmobiles or snow cats. Exotic locales require exotic transportation.

5. samhill
Salt Lake City, UT,
Dec. 28, 2013

As much as I'd like to have a shorter route between Park City and my home in Sandy throughout the year, I think it would be a mistake to expend the resources to try and keep that and other similar routes open during the Winter. For those people who live on or near the routes or other intrepid travelers who would like to use them, let them buy the proper deep-snow transportation to handle the Winter conditions.

I'd rather we expend more resources to improve the roads for use at other times of year. Guardsman Pass in particular.