Proposed gondola construction between Georgetown, Rosslyn builds momentum

Photo courtesy of Leitner-Poma for the Georgetown BID.
Photo courtesy of Leitner-Poma for the Georgetown BID.

By: Meghan Sorensen

In 2014, a new form of transportation was proposed that would link Rosslyn to Georgetown. Given that Metro currently does not facilitate access to Georgetown, the District Department of Transportation suggested a gondola installation to bridge Virginia and D.C. over the Potomac River. 

This concept would fill a hole in public transportation while benefiting both Virginia and D.C. Since Rosslyn and Georgetown are both employment and residential hubs, the gondola could allow both locations to share its wealth.

Metro currently has a long-term expansion plan that will create a new Blue Line tunnel to ease congestion created by the shared space of the orange, blue, and silver lines. This expansion plan would also create new public transportation to Rosslyn and Georgetown.

So why build a gondola when the metro has plans? Joe Sternlieb, the president of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said, “because gondolas can be built so much more quickly, planned and built in just a few years instead of 30 [or] 40 years, and at one tiny fraction of the cost. What we’ve been advocating is to move forward and connect Georgetown to the regional transit network, with the gondola in the near-term.” Sternlieb said the near-term plan is less than 10 years.

The Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Coalition was created by a group of organizations that wish to improve public transit to Georgetown. The coalition’s website claims their goal is to improve “access to Georgetown’s jobs for the region’s workforce; congestion relief; and pollution reduction.” Given that Georgetown is a major business hotspot, public transportation could lead to an influx of consumers while offering jobs to new workers.

In a feasibility study that was conducted in November 2016, it was estimated that the gondola could carry a minimum of 6,500 passengers per day. This concept would also be considerably less expensive while taking considerably less time to implement than the Metro’s 2040 Plan for tunnels and stations from Rosslyn to Georgetown.

With a four-minute ride across the Potomac River, traffic congestion and pollution can easily be reduced. This project would ease access until the metro is able to conduct the expansion that the DMV community so desperately needs. “Our goal isn’t to fixate on one mode of transportation or public transit,” Sternlieb said.  

“Our goal is to move people and they need to be moved now. We need to create more transit options to serve the Georgetown employment center and also the downtown core and a lot of other places. The gondola doesn’t replace the need to do a metro expansion for the region to continue growing and thriving. What it does is says for the first 30 years, this is one way to connect Georgetown to the overall regional system. Just tunneling under the river and building the two stations is going to cost you two to 2.5 billion dollars. The cost of a gondola connection is closer to 100 to 115 million dollars, so it’s less than 1/20 of the cost and less than 25 percent of the time commitment.”

In February 2017, the Arlington County Board said they will not fund the project. Jay Fisette, the board’s chairman, said this to The Washington Post: “[g]iven 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.”

Overall, The board feared they won’t be able to get as much out of the project as they put into it monetarily. Recently, however, Sternlieb says, “there are a lot of larger Arlington county property owners and business that have joined to coalition. And the county did share a letter with us a while back, saying that they did not oppose the project and would be happy to participate as a consulting party in the EIS [Environmental Impact Study] process.”

So what does the timeline look like for this project? Currently, the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Coalition is growing a supporter base while holding weekly meetings to plan for the future of the project. Focusing on research and design, the next step will be the Environmental Impact Study followed by the funding stage. With the determination and support the coalition possesses, D.C. should expect to see the project come to fruition within the next decade.

“I can assure you that the project is very much alive, and we continue to organize and plan and coordinate and build the coalition of supporters,” says Sternlieb.