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Officials Pitch $90 Million DC Gondola Project As Metro Crumbles

REUTERS/Toby Melville

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

Officials in the Washington, D.C., region are considering a $90 million project to build a gondola system connecting Virginia and the District, despite mounting budgetary woes at Metro.

The project is estimated to cost anywhere from $80 to $90 million to build, and roughly $3.25 million a year for operation and maintenance. It’s reminiscent of the infamous D.C. Streetcar, which only took 10 years of bureaucratic squabbling and $200 million to build, and still costs the city $8 million annually. The proposed gondola would operate under the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which is currently facing a $275 million budget shortfall, reports ABC News.

The gondola would serve as an arm of the D.C. transit system and allow riders to use their Metro cards to pay for the ride. The gondola aims to connect Georgetown, where there is no Metro stop, to Rosslyn, traveling over the Potomac River.

“For Georgetown and Rosslyn, we believe a gondola system might provide a great many benefits by reducing car travel, inexpensively extending a Metro station, and linking Georgetown and Rosslyn’s respective residential and commercial communities,” Will Handsfield, transportation director of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said in a statement.

Officials estimate the gondola \would service roughly 6,500 weekly riders and provide two million annual trips.

Folks in the District are questioning the wisdom of pitching such an expensive project to a transit agency already mired by financial chaos and a deteriorating system.

Despite the position of D.C. Metro officials, many localities appear reluctant to allocate additional funds to the transit system. A proposal brought before the D.C. Council in October suggested hiking fares 35 percent to deal with the transit agency’s $275 million budget shortfall. Other suggestions include significant operation reductions to cover the costs. None of these suggestions prove popular with the public.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld unveiled a budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year Sunday that would drastically alter the functioning and makeup of the transit agency. The plan calls for fare hikes, service cuts and would lead to 1,000 layoffs at the agency.

Business groups, the D.C. government, Arlington County and Georgetown University all contributed to the financial study of the proposed gondola. Officials from the D.C. region will review the findings of the study and decide whether or not to proceed with the project.

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