OGDEN -- Utah's high mountain passes combined with winter conditions usually don't equate to open roads, but the state is looking into exactly what it would take for that to change.
The Utah Department of Transportation will complete a $200,000 study later this year to evaluate the benefits of keeping several mountain passes across the state open through the winter.
The roads are historically closed each year during the winter because of safety concerns and the prohibitive costs of keeping it open to traffic.
As part of the study, UDOT will evaluate eight mountain passes, including two located in the Top of Utah -- State Road 39, also known as the Monte Cristo Highway from Mile Marker 37 near Ant Flat Road east of Huntsville to Mile Marker 56 west of Woodruff; and, State Road 65, the Big Mountain Highway, from Mile Marker 3 near the Emigration Canyon turn-off to Mile Marker 14 south of the East Canyon Resort.
Cory Pope, program development director for UDOT, said the study will first look at how much each individual highway would cost to keep open during the winter.
Associated costs would include staff salaries, equipment, materials, fuel and roadway improvements.
The state would then weigh those costs against possible benefits like travel time savings, community connections, recreational property access, safety and potential tax gains from development opportunities.
"It's just going to give us an opportunity to study these roads a little deeper," Pope said. "It's at least going to give us an idea of what it's going to take (to keep a particular pass open during the winter)."
Pope said the state has already hired a consultant to help with the study and it should begin sometime shortly after the new year.
In the Top of Utah, the Monte Cristo Highway and the Big Mountain Highway typically close around Thanksgiving and remain closed until spring.
This year the Monte Cristo Highway opened in the middle of May, about two weeks earlier than it normally does.
"For quite a while now, we've been trying to see what we can do to get our mountain passes open sooner," said UDOT Region One spokesman Vic Saunders.
But while the highway opened early this year, Saunders said each winter season brings a different set of circumstances.
"Depending on what the winter is like, they can be closed well into the summer," he said.
In 2011, the Monte Cristo Highway didn't open until July because of extremely high snow levels, with off-highway snow depths in excess of 25 feet in some locations.
In addition to the two Top of Utah passes, UDOT will also evaluate SR 190 in the Big Cottonwood Canyon area, SR 35 near Wolf Creek Pass, SR 92 near the Alpine Loop, SR 153 in Beaver, SR 150 in Kamas and SR 143 in Parowan.
Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.