A proposal to build a ski resort-style gondola system over the Potomac River connecting the Georgetown area to nearby Rosslyn, Va., has been deemed technically feasible, despite its $80 – $90 million cost to build. While some are anticipating the potential of opening the area to new tourists and producing a new transportation hub near the Key Bridge, others – mostly Black residents – call the proposal, “wasteful,” “a disservice to the neediest commuters,” and “a gimmick.”

This artist rendering provided by ZGF Architects LLP shows the proposed ski resort-style gondola system over the Potomac River connecting Washington and Virginia. The system is technically feasible and would cost $80 million to $90 million to build, according to a study released Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. (ZGF Architects LLP via AP)

This artist rendering provided by ZGF Architects LLP shows the proposed ski resort-style gondola system over the Potomac River connecting Washington and Virginia. The system is technically feasible and would cost $80 million to $90 million to build, according to a study released Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. (ZGF Architects LLP via AP)

The Georgetown-Rosslyn Feasibility Study, released Nov. 3, found that, in terms of potential ridership, a Gondola could significantly contribute to a more effective multi-modal transit system while addressing transportation needs in the immediate study area – one not currently served by a Metrorail station within the District. “Metro cannot support and sustain its current system, so why would a gondola in any area of the city be considered anything but wasteful,” Ward 7 resident Lashawn Bixby told the AFRO.  “My neighborhood struggled for years against a street car that is over budget, goes nowhere, and serves no one except the developers who insisted the residents needed it.”

Bixby pointed out that the gondola system, even if built in a public-private scheme by developers, would operate under the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which is currently facing a $275 million budget shortfall. “Even as we suffer through SafeTrack work, employee firings, and proposals to close early, Metro could not, in good conscious, consider spending money on a venture that serves a handful of people in D.C. and a mostly business jurisdiction in Virginia,” Bixby said.

Still, with the feasibility study in hand, groups like Georgetown Business Improvement District and Rosslyn Business Improvement, are prepared to move into the phase of pre-development where community members voice their opinions, and necessary state and local approval is sought. “Georgetown is the largest employment center without a metro station and there are only four portals in and out, so you either have to take the Metrobus or the Circulator to get around,” Joe Sternlieb, CEO of Georgetown Business Improvement District, said on the Kojo Nnamdi show.  “We know that Metro will have to build another tunnel if we are to continue growing within the region and sustain the economy, so we see as another metro station. The gondola seems interesting at this stage.”

The proposal envisions a 4-minute ride with enclosed cabins coming every 20 to 60 seconds. Each cabin would hold eight to 12 people, according to Sternlieb, who said the ridership could potentially reach 6,500 daily.

Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, another group that helped pay for the study, told Nnamdi she was skeptical initially, but believes the project to be an affordable transit solution. “I thought it was nuts, I was initially skeptical, but the more I saw how other cities and other countries were successfully using this as an urban transit mode, I thought we should study it,” Burick told WPFW listeners.  “It is, however, critically important to have the community involved in these decisions and have the right information to make an informed decision.  Sixty thousand people cross the Key Bridge every day, by car, bus and foot, so we have to be really transparent with the community to address their needs.”

The Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola will require both a capital budget to build the system – estimated to cost between $80 and $90 million –and an annual operating and maintenance (O&M) budget, estimated to cost $3.25 million per year. The annual O&M costs could be funded, said the feasibility study, through a mix of fare box revenues, sponsorships, and reassignment of subsidies from existing shuttle services.  Their average fares of $2.50 per trip represent new revenues to Metro.