The Arlington County Board agreed Thursday night to kick in $35,000 to study the possibility of a Georgetown-to-Rosslyn gondola, which supporters hope will ease traffic on Key Bridge and zip visitors more easily across the Potomac River.
“I started out really skeptical, and I’m still skeptical, but I want to have an open mind,” said board chair Libby Garvey (D), just before the unanimous vote supporting the study. “This doesn’t mean it’s a done deal by any means, but we’ll take a look at it.”
Joe Sternlieb, president of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, told the board that an urban gondola, or “cable-propelled transit,” could be faster and far cheaper than building a new Metro tunnel to Georgetown, which lacks a subway stop.
The proposal has been floated for the past year. In May 2015, the District government put in $35,000. Other contributions will come from Georgetown businesses, $75,000; Georgetown University $25,000; the Rosslyn business improvement district $20,000; developer JBG $5,000; and developers Gould Properties/Vornado $5,000.
The six-tenths of a mile between D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood and the Rosslyn Metro stop attracts 50,000 vehicles per day over the Key Bridge and the bridge’s sidewalks are Arlington County’s busiest. Currently, DC Circulator buses, Georgetown University and hospital buses as well as Metro and Arlington County buses congregate around the Rosslyn Metro entrances multiple times per day.
When some board members said a gondola would benefit the District far more than Arlington, the county’s economic development director Victor Hoskins disagreed.
“Rosslyn has nine hotels, more than 2,100 rooms,” he said. Visitors, he said, are headed to the Marine Corps Memorial or Arlington National Cemetery, “and the easier it is for people to get to those places, the better off we are. It’s a symbiotic benefit.”
The board members said they aren’t sure a gondola is a good idea, but they agreed a study of it is a good idea. They also didn’t want the proposal to distract the local transportation staff from other priorities. But board members also said they wanted to collaborate with other governments in the region and have a voice in decision-making.
The money would go toward hiring a contractor to do the study, Sternlieb and county officials said. The study would look at costs, ridership, design and other issues. Board member John Vihstadt (I) said the National Park Service, which owns land on the Arlington side of the river, and the National Capital Planning Commission may also have opinions on the impact of a gondola on existing views.
The study is expected to take about 10 months.