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Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola deemed feasible in study

Rendering of the Gondola System along the Key Bridge. (Courtesy Georgetown Business Improvement District)

WASHINGTON — The idea of a Georgetown-to-Rosslyn gondola got a thumbs-up from the neighborhood’s business leaders on Thursday.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District released a feasibility study on Thursday, and the results say that a system could work seamlessly with Metro, reduce about 100,000 bus trips a year across the Key Bridge and deliver “significant potential economic benefits on both sides” of the Potomac River, the business group said in a statement.

“The charge for this study was not to sell the idea of a gondola; rather, it was to evaluate if a gondola is technically feasible, from a multidisciplinary approach, and to conceptually define the feasibility parameters,” Otto Condon of ZGF Architects, the firm that conducted the study, said in the statement.

The best locations for gondola stations, the study finds, would be along North Lynn Street in Arlington and near the Exxon gas station on M Street in Georgetown. The gondola would take four minutes per trip; cabins with eight to 12 people would arrive every 20 to 60 seconds.

The study also found that a gondola would have economic benefits such as higher property values and more business for restaurants, shops, hotels and more. And while up to 20 local, state and federal agencies would need to sign off on the gondola idea, there’s no reason they wouldn’t, the study suggested.

“If the Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola was viewed as Georgetown’s Metro station, ridership would be higher than over half the Metro stations in the D.C. area, while capital and operating costs would be lower,” said Joe Sternlieb, president and CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District.

It’s possible that gondola rides could be paid for with a Metro fare card.

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

The study also finds that the system would cost $80 million to $90 million in capital costs and $3.25 million a year to operate — significantly less, the study says, than the proposed Georgetown Metro station.

“It is important to note that no proposals have been made yet about how the gondola would be funded,” said Libby Garvey, chair of the Arlington County Board. “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.”

The team from ZGF Architects, as well as Sternlieb and Rosslyn Business Improvement District President Mary-Claire Burdick, will discuss the study Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Georgetown Theater, 1351 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington.

The study includes photos of similar systems and several options in terms of stations and setup.

The next step for the project is for regional officials and leaders to take a look at the results. If officials want to move forward, they would need to discuss funding and conducting an environmental impact study. That process would take three to four years, the study said; construction would take about two more.

”With our finding that a gondola is feasible, the decision to move forward is a discussion for both sides of the Potomac to have, both individually and collaboratively,” Condon said in the statement.

D.C., Arlington County, Georgetown University and others helped pay for the study.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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