Pinto Seeks $14 Million for Gondola
By March 29, 2021 3 2655•
In a March 25 letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser listing Brooke Pinto’s budget priorities for fiscal year 2022, the Ward 2 Council member called for $14 million in funding to proceed with the Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola project.
Citing the need to address the city’s climate goals by electrifying the transportation grid, Pinto requested $12 million to purchase the site for Georgetown’s proposed gondola terminal — to be located at 3601 M St. NW, formerly an Exxon station — and $2 million to complete an environmental impact study for the project.
The imaginative “green transportation” concept envisions linking Georgetowners more efficiently to the Metrorail system by ferrying as many as 6,500 passengers a day over the Potomac River. The electric tramway would run between 36thStreet in Georgetown and the Rosslyn Metro station, on the Virginia side of Key Bridge.
According to gondola boosters, passengers would delight in the four-minute ride over the scenic waterway, with the aerial shortcut reducing traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and commuter times.
“The District has the opportunity to purchase the gas station across from the Francis Scott Key Bridge, one of the largest arteries connecting D.C. to Virginia,” reads Pinto’s letter. “By purchasing this property, the District could establish the city’s first EV [electric vehicle] charging station for ride share and other commercial vehicles, making a significant step towards electrifying D.C.’s transit. In addition, this would provide the space needed to establish the Gondola across the Potomac River if the completed EIS [environmental impact statement] demonstrates that it is the most cost effective, green transportation option for commuters.”
Though many consider the plan a pipe dream, it has quietly advanced from the planning phase to the implementation phase. The American Rescue Act, recently passed by Congress, allotted the District $2.3 billion for pandemic recovery and economic development, with room for transportation improvements. Also, Congress may soon pass a major infrastructure bill proposed by the Biden-Harris administration.
A group calling itself the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Coalition — supported by the Georgetown Business Improvement District, a range of Georgetown business enterprises, Georgetown University and the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club — has advocated for the project as the most efficient and feasible way to solve the issue of Georgetown Metro access.
“Georgetown is the largest employment center in the Capital region that does not have a Metro station. Between the university, hospital and commercial district, Georgetown supports more than 21,000 jobs,” the coalition states on its website. “The gondola would significantly expand the 30-minute transit shed to Georgetown jobs while inducing transit ridership. The feasibility study projected that it would … have a lower capital cost than other fixed guideway transit options, and a lower subsidy per ride than any other transit offered in the region.”
The estimated cost for the project is between $90 and $110 million for construction, with annual operating costs of $3.25 million.
Wouldn’t a new Metro stop in Georgetown be a simpler solution? Too costly and time-consuming, responds the coalition. “The community considered the likelihood of a new Metro tunnel between Rosslyn and Georgetown, as well as expanded bus, Circulator and streetcar service over the Key Bridge,” according to the website. “The Metro option is about 19 times more expensive than the Gondola and would take over 20 years to realize if the funding were available. Adding more transit to Key Bridge reduces its road capacity for cars, buses and trucks. So the gondola is the only affordable transit option that adds trip capacity without competing with existing roadway users.”
Further, gondolas are “statistically the safest form of transit operating in the United States today.” To reassure those worried that the terminal at 36th and M Streets might harm the Exorcist Stairs, the coalition’s website states that the popular tourist attraction will not be affected.
An online FAQ about the project is available HERE.