The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is overseeing the MoPac toll lane project, is considering funding a viability study for a proposed 8-mile gondola line that would run above South First and Guadalupe streets.
Argodesign is the agency behind The Wire urban cable concept, which is similar to gondola systems used by ski resorts. The Wire would be a high-speed, detachable gondola system using towers and stations above the city’s roads and would operate between Slaughter Lane and The University of Texas campus, said Jared Ficklin, partner and lead creative technologist at Argodesign.
“It would make a meaningful impact if we could get the ridership we think we could,” Ficklin said. “It’s something that would be available to every person who lives downtown to south of the river. South First is a route they use every day.”
Ficklin presented the idea Wednesday to the Mobility Authority board of directors because board members David Armbrust and Nikelle Meade requested to hear more information about the concept.
“I like the idea of expanding our options beyond roads,” Armbrust said. “I would like to take it to the next level and see where it goes.”
The Mobility Authority is interested in funding a $15,000 viability study, which would ensure no barriers would prevent the project and also serve as a precursor to a more in-depth feasibility study that could cost more than $1 million.
Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said he would like to make sure the city of Austin supports the concept before moving forward because the system would be above city roads. He said he would like to have The Wire concept as a discussion item on the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 28.
The Wire would not have a schedule because a gondola would arrive every few seconds. Ficklin said the system could carry between 2,400 and 6,000 riders per hour. His initial concept includes 19 stations that would also be located above the roadway, and ramps would connect to sidewalks or double as pedestrian bridges.
Ficklin said the system would be compatible with requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and riders would also be able to board with bicycles.
Estimated costs for building the system is anywhere between $290 million and $600 million, Ficklin said, adding the cost would be analyzed in a feasibility study.
“The only cultural change we’re asking is you is get up when you want, drive to a parking garage, get on The Wire and go to an office,” he said.
History in Austin
Ficklin first got the idea in 2011 after being inspired by gondolas in Telluride, Colorado. He began pitching the concept in 2012 through another design firm called Frog Design. The city of Round Rock expressed interest in the project in 2013, but the concept has not progressed.
Ficklin said Argodesign held off on advocating The Wire in 2014 because of the urban rail bond, but after it was defeated, they began pursuing the concept again. He said he is working on getting the concept onto Austin City Council’s Mobility Committee agenda.