Ar­ling­ton County opts out of gon­dola — but Ge­orge­town might still be in

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - THE RE­GION BY PA­TRI­CIA SUL­LI­VAN pa­tri­cia.sul­li­van@wash­post.com

A pro­posed gon­dola con­nect­ing Ge­orge­town and Ross­lyn across the Po­tomac River won’t be funded with money from Ar­ling­ton, be­cause other trans­porta­tion projects, such as Metro and Columbia Pike tran­sit, take pri­or­ity, the Ar­ling­ton County Board said Fri­day.

“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,” the board’s chair­man, Jay Fisette (D), said in a let­ter to the gon­dola study com­mit­tee.

But the project — which has been touted by the Ge­orge­town Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Dis­trict, among oth­ers, as a cheaper way to get mass tran­sit ac­cess be­tween the two boom­ing neigh­bor­hoods — is far from dead, Joe Stern­lieb, pres­i­dent of the Ge­orge­town BID, said.

“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 said. “By no means is this a death knell.”

A cable-pro­pelled tran­sit sys­tem, like those in Port­land, Ore., and con­nect­ing New York City’s Roo­sevelt Is­land to Man­hat­tan, could serve as an al­ter­na­tive to a Metro sta­tion, Stern­lieb said.

The six-tenths of a mile be­tween Ge­orge­town and the Ross­lyn Metro sta­tion at­tracts 50,000 ve­hi­cles per day over the Key Bridge. The bridge’s side­walks are Ar­ling­ton County’s busiest, and bi­cy­cle com­muters of­ten use the bridge, as well.

Cur­rently, DC Cir­cu­la­tor buses, Ge­orge­town University and hos­pi­tal buses, and Metro and Ar­ling­ton County buses shut­tle over the river mul­ti­ple times per day.

In truth, the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Ar­ling­ton County Board was ex­tremely un­likely. Even when the board agreed a year ago to kick in $35,000 for a fea­si­bil­ity study, sev­eral board mem­bers ex­pressed deep skep­ti­cism.

The study, which came out in Novem­ber, es­ti­mated an $80 mil­lion to $90 mil­lion con­struc­tion cost for the sys­tem over the Po­tomac at the Key Bridge, as well as $2 mil­lion to $3 mil­lion in annual op­er­at­ing costs.

That weighed heav­ily on the board, said Vice Chair Katie Cris­tol (D). But she said it couldn’t com­pete with more­press­ing pri­or­i­ties.

“We want to send a strong sig­nal to folks that Metro and Columbia Pike — that’s where our pri­or­i­ties are in the years ahead,” she said. “If this goes for­ward with pri­vate in­vest­ment money, we’d be happy to have a con­ver­sa­tion about ease­ments, et cetera.”

NIKKI KAHN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The six-tenths of a mile be­tween Ge­orge­town and the Ross­lyn Metro sta­tion at­tracts 50,000 ve­hi­cles per day over the Key Bridge, above. A gon­dola pro­posal there won’t be funded by Ar­ling­ton County but has the sup­port of the Ge­orge­town Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Dis­trict.

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