The Arlington County Board announced Feb. 11 that it will not provide any public funds to build a proposed Georgetown-Rosslyn aerial gondola system over the Potomac River.
The decision comes after an in-depth feasibility study released in November 2016 found the gondola project to be economically and technologically feasible. In their letter to the executive committee of the gondola proposal, the county board cited the funds allocated to other transportation projects already underway in Arlington as a barrier to the county’s participation in the gondola project.
“Given our identified and pressing transportation needs, along with some ongoing concerns about the long-term value of the gondola, the Board is not in favor of any further funding of the gondola project,” wrote Jay Fisette, chair of the county board, in the letter announcing the board’s decision.
The Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola would span the Potomac River and is meant to reduce traffic on Key Bridge and connect Georgetown with the Rosslyn Metro station. According to the project’s executive board, the plan would benefit both the Georgetown and Rosslyn business districts. Arlington joined several counties and organizations, including Georgetown University, in January 2016 to fund the feasibility study.
In a community meeting on Nov. 3, Mary-Claire Burick, president of Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID), said that the study was only the first of many steps in the process of getting the gondola up and running. She said the next was getting the approval of local governments, like the Arlington County Board, and federal agencies.
“From an Arlingtonian perspective, you can see how the gondola would help attract businesses that want to locate in accessible urban hubs, residents who want to navigate between neighborhood amenities without cars, and tourists who want to see beautiful skylines and views,” said Burick in a press release accompanying the feasibility results.
Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the Georgetown BID, said that Arlington’s decision is not an insurmountable obstacle to the project.
“People on this side of the river will continue to have conversations for the next year or so, and if a coalition of regional leaders decide to go forward, we’ll try to re-engage Arlington at that point,” Sternlieb told the Washington Post. “By no means is this a death knell.”
According to the feasibility study, the project would cost an estimated $80 to $90 million dollars and take approximately four to six years to build. In its Jan. 3, 2017 meeting, John Vihstadt, member of the Arlington County Board, said he opposed the project.
“Now is not the time to spend upwards of 90 million dollars on a Disney-like gondola to Georgetown while current modes of public transit need significant new investment,” Vihstadt said.
Although most current Georgetown students will not be at the university when the gondola would be unveiled, future Hoyas could have the option to travel high over the river if the gondola project receives the necessary funding.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the estimated cost of the project would $80 to $90 million dollars.