When Joe Sternlieb first stumbled across a gondola in Portland seven years ago that was transporting passengers up a steep grade to a medical campus, he thought the unusual mode of transportation could be used in D.C. to carry people over the Potomac River between Georgetown and Rosslyn.
But Sternlieb, who is the president of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, thought, “they would never go for that in Washington,” and the idea seemed quixotic, at best.
Still, he’s been floating the idea to a receptive group of business leaders and residents over the last few years, and now, a gondola connecting D.C. and Virginia seems feasible, or at least a study examining the feasibility of such a gondola is.
Tucked within the $13 billion spending plan the D.C. Council passed Wednesday is $35,000 to conduct a study to determine if a gondola makes sense.
Sternlieb estimates that a feasibility study would cost around $200,000. The Georgetown BID has already raised about $130,000 of that through private donors and are hoping the District and Arlington County each will chip in about $35,000. The comprehensive study would analyze the engineering, logistical and political considerations surrounding the gondola, such as which government agency, or private company, would operate the system.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, introduced the funding for the study to the city’s budget.
“We have to realistically explore all forms of transportation,” said Cheh. “It may not make any sense, it might not be feasible, but I do think it makes sense to explore it.”
The Arlington County Board has not allocated money for the study, but a spokeswoman for the county said it’s interested in doing so and is looking for ways to fund it.
“We are trying to find the source for the funding,” said Diana Sun, director of communications for the county. “Anything that improves connectivity is obviously something to look at.”
The gondola proposal was formally pitched in the Georgetown 2028 plan, a 15-year strategic plan released last year. Georgetown was once the hip, go-to neighborhood for tourists and residents looking for high-end dining and entertainment. Now, areas like Shaw, Petworth, Logan Circle and Navy Yard offer restaurants and bars that are more than just neighborhood haunts, and are attracting people from all over the region.
Georgetown is struggling to compete, and it doesn’t help that the neighborhood isn’t served by a Metro station. Digging underground tunnels to create a Metro station to serve Georgetown isn’t likely anytime soon, and Sternlieb said a gondola could be a cheaper and faster option.
It could alleviate some of the significant traffic of Virginia commuters traveling to D.C. — and vice versa — and provide people an alternative to walking to the Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn Metro stations.
“We need to be looking at ways to reduce private automotive traffic,” said Sternlieb. “Linking Georgetown is a really important goal, and we think the [gondola] could be one of the ways … it’s extremely productive transit.”
Sternlieb said the feasibility study could take anywhere from nine months to a year to complete. A steering committee, comprised of representatives from the District Department of Transportation, Arlington County and others, would oversee it.
If the price of the study falls below $200,000, the Georgetown BID would return the remaining funds to the private donors and governments that contributed.