A consortium of county government leaders has been awarded a $200,000 federal grant to study the feasibility of transportation projects connecting the Wasatch Front canyons.

The Mountainland Association of Governments, representing Salt Lake, Summit and Wasatch counties, received the grant from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, which will use the group's studies as a pilot project, said association executive director Homer Chandler.The money will provide for a yearlong study of the feasibility of such proposals as a tunnel through the Wasatch Range or a 13-mile, high-speed gondola.

If approved, the transportation system would connect recreation areas of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Park City and Wasatch Mountain State Park.

The system would not necessarily be the same as the Ski Interconnect proposal to link the five Salt Lake area ski resorts, although that is one of the alternatives that will be studied. The system also will not deal with traffic up the canyons, only potential traffic across the canyons.

If the Urban Mass Transportation Administration identifies a feasible system in Utah, the agency will consider applying similar technology to other high-altitude areas that have applied for funds, such as Aspen, Colo., and Squaw Valley, Calif., Chandler said.

The first step in the study is to determine whether there is a need for a connection between the canyons.

"We suspect there is," said Darrel Cook, MAG planner. "The Wasatch Canyon Transportation Study showed that the Wasatch canyons are stressed with automobile traffic in both winter and summer. There is always pressure for continued development in the canyons, and that will bring with it additional traffic."

Chandler said the need for the project hinges on whether canyon users feel they cannot fully enjoy the areas without an inter-canyon transportation system.

If such a need is determined, the study will look at, but is not limited to, seven alternatives, including a public bus system tied in with a ski interconnect; a high mountain road; a proposed tunnel system from Salt Lake County to the Snyderville Basin in Summit County; a cog railway system from Salt Lake to Snyderville; a ski-lift interconnect designed primarily to serve skiers; a high-speed gondola; or a suspended fixed-cable tramway.

Each of the proposals would cost in the millions, and identifying potential financing is part of the study.

Chandler said he has heard estimates of up to $400 million for the Supertunnel proposal. The other systems would cost in the millions but would be much less than the tunnel plan.

If a preferred alternative is identified from the study, UMTA would begin a detailed engineering review lasting another year. After that, development would be subject to financing, permits and zoning.

"We're looking at well into the 1990s before we see anything," Cook said.