Cottonwood Canyon Transportation Action Plan: Tolling Study

If you have tried to access one of your favorite Little or Big Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts on the morning of a “powder panic,” especially during a weekend, you have likely experienced the quagmire of stagnant vehicles slowly snaking up the canyon roads. 

In conjunction with the Central Wasatch Commission, transportation experts from UDOT and other state transportation agencies will explore tolling as a possible means for ameliorating the existing traffic congestion and the anticipated hike in traffic volumes in both Cottonwood Canyons in the coming years. This study will be a part of the Cottonwood Canyons Transportation Action Plan, which will also address transit options, water quality, pedestrian and bike facilities and other possible solutions for traffic congestion. 

Tolling Statutes & Revenue in Utah

  • In 1997, the Utah State Legislature passed HB 266 to allow UDOT the option to toll UDOT operated roadways. Since doing so, the legislation developed further to allow license plate detecting devices to be utilized to enforce roadway laws, to assist in criminal investigations, and to administer roadway tolls. More recently, in 2018, the Utah Legislature passed SB 71 to enforce penalties for toll nonpayment. These penalties can result in a hold on vehicle license plate registration. 
  • Utah’s toll revenue is allocated to a Tollway Special Revenue Fund, which is then divided so that each tollway has its own account. These funds can only be utilized by the discretion of UDOT’s Transportation Commission. 

Cottonwood Canyons Transportation Action Plan Tolling Study

The study will delve into various mobility management scenarios to consider all modes of transportation and equitable access through the Cottonwood canyons. In addition, it will forecast projected toll revenues, and traffic patterns. To solicit public opinion, a “Willingness to Pay” survey will be administered. Finally, an implementation feasibility analysis will be developed to help determine the next course of action. 

Tolling Options

There are several tolling methods that the Tolling Study will vet to determine the best possible alternatives for SR 190 and SR 210. The Final Action Plan will consist of the best solution for the roadways after comprehensive scenario development, which will include: managed lanes, travel demand, transit service options, and fixed, hybrid or variable pricing models, etc.

Overview of Tolling Types and Technologies to be Investigated

  • Electronic or Open Road Tolling (ORT): This type of tolling utilizes sensors or cameras to detect vehicle movement while administering the required toll, which allows cars to drive through the entrance of the toll roads without stopping. This method can be advantageous because it greatly reduces the traffic congestion that is commonly found on high volume roadways that require stopping prior to entering the toll zone. 
  • E-ZPass: E-ZPasses are used for ORT systems, and are commonly used on low-speed roadways. Currently, 17 states in the U.S. utilize E-ZPass tolling systems. E-ZPass holders receive active transponder tags that the vehicle owner can place inside their windshield. These transponders send a unique signal to a detection device located at the entrance of the tollway. Each E-Zpass is associated with a registered vehicle. If a vehicle that is not registered under the E-ZPass account enters the tollway with an E-ZPass, an incorrect toll fee will be sent to the passholder. 
  • License Plate Recognition: Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) is allowed by law in Utah due to the Automated License Plate Reader System Act. There are only 15 other states in the US that allow ALPR. In Utah, license plate recognition data can only be accessed by government agencies for the following purposes, and usually accessible through either a court order or Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) request. 

                      – To enforce state and local traffic traffic laws.

                     – For criminal investigations to protect public safety. 

                     – For use of traffic pattern analysis and roadway studies by a public transit district. 

                     – To control access of a secured area. 

                     – To collect electronic tolls.

  • Occupancy Detection – Utah’s I-15 already possesses occupancy detection technology through its Express Lanes. Occupancy detection can be beneficial when issuing tollway charges. For instance, occupancy detection can determine to reduce or eliminate the toll price for vehicles with higher occupancy. This type of implementation has been found to increase roadway capacity by successfully incentivizing shared trips.


Further investigation of the feasibility of bus-rapid transit alignments, light-rail extensions, gondolas, and parking capacity will be conducted to address short- and long-term solutions to expected visitation increases along the Central Wasatch Mountains. The Central Wasatch Commission aims to work with its partners to integrate tolling solutions as a component to other transportation options needed to maintain an ease of access throughout the Cottonwood Canyons. If you are interested in learning more about these efforts, please read about our Cottonwood Canyon Transportation Action Plan in more depth here. 

2 thoughts on “Cottonwood Canyon Transportation Action Plan: Tolling Study”

  1. TonyDefries says:

    The is no doubt a change is needed – this is not about price, it is about providing facilities and systems.

    It needs parking facilities at the base of the canyons, in 2 – 4 locations, not all in one location and a fleet of low emission buses, possibly as an interim measure to ferry people up and down the mountain.

    This is not about pricing people out to change behaviour. Most people who use the canyons want to preserve them. We use cars now because the public systems are so inadequate.

    The car parks to start with may be temporary using failed supermarkets and big box store car parks, before building bespoke structures at the base of the canyon.

    This is so simple but all parties seem incapable of doing what is needed. What it needs is strong leadership.

  2. Gay Etta Hemingway says:

    I support widening the road and adding another lane for traffic which would allow many more people into the canyon. We are fortunate to live near beautiful recreational canyons. Let’s make it possible to enjoy them. This has been done in other canyons and effectively adds to accessibility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *