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Arlington says ‘no’ to Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola

A study conducted in November 2016 suggested the gondola project would improve the already pricey property values in the area and would generate more business. (Courtesy Georgetown Business Improvement District)

WASHINGTON — A gondola over the Potomac River had been billed as a way to better connect Georgetown with Rosslyn — and Metro — plus offer some economic bonuses.

But Arlington County is now saying it is no longer interested.

Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette stated in a letter to the study committee that the county will not continue exploring a potential gondola.

He wrote that the board members and its staff looked at the feasibility study, which considered ridership demand, operating costs and the logistics of making it happen. It also estimated its cost at $80 to $90 million.

Fisette said a gondola is just not in the county’s future.

“Arlington already has a large number of transportation projects in the County’s Master Transportation Plan, including several in Rosslyn that will require substantial resources and attention over the next several years,” Fisette wrote.

The county would rather commit that money to its current roster of projects instead of one with many lingering questions.

“The biggest issue is really funding. It’s that the board is not in favor of further funding this project,” said Arlington County Board Vice Chairwoman Katie Cristol. “If it goes forward with private funding, we’ll look forward to continued conversations.”

“We do have everyday things to take care of and we’re always looking for ways to be innovative and creative, particularly in the way we think about moving people throughout our county, and in and out of the region, and so we were interested and intrigued to participate in this study,” Cristol said.

That is in contrast with the rosier perspective on the other side of the Potomac when the Georgetown Business Improvement District released the study in November.

Back then, the study suggested the project would improve the already pricey property values in the area and would generate more business. It even stated that although “up to 20 local, state and federal agencies would need to sign off on the gondola idea, there’s no reason they wouldn’t.”

Officials also talked about the fact that a gondola would have a bigger ridership than half of Metro’s stations, which they said would lower the operating costs.

“I have long liked the idea of having a gondola to link Georgetown with Rosslyn and the Metro system,” D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, said at the time. “It is an innovative and forward-thinking way to address transportation issues in the District and our region.”

But even then, Arlington was not fully sold on the proposal.

“It is important to note that no proposals have been made yet about how the gondola would be funded,” Libby Garvey, who at the time was the chairwoman of the Arlington County Board, said back in November. “Should we decide to continue to explore whether or not to build a gondola, funding proposals would also affect the Board’s decision on whether to actually build the project.”

That appeared to be a big concern to the county board.

“We had always participated in this study with an interest in learning more without a funding commitment and so this is a bit of a solidification of the position we had,” Cristol said.

The current chairman said with the county’s immediate transportation needs and concerns about the long-term value of the gondola, the board decided against committing any more funding to the project.

Read the letter on the county board website.


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