Future of an Austin gondola system hangs in the balance

Argodesign is proposing a concept called The Wire gondola system in Austin. Gondolas would stretch above roadways and the river and use South First and Lavaca streets.

Argodesign is proposing a concept called The Wire gondola system in Austin. Gondolas would stretch above roadways and the river and use South First and Lavaca streets.

The viability of a gondola system in Austin depends on whether the proposer addresses hurdles outlined in a recent report or supplies additional details on the urban cable concept.

The high-level report on the viability of a gondola system in Austin revealed a few hurdles the concept would have to overcome, including financing and aesthetics, but declined to offer any recommendations because of a lack of information.

Capital Metro, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the city of Austin, all of whom pitched in $5,000 for a feasibility study—released a statement Friday.

"Based on that analysis, the sponsoring agencies conclude that, at this time, the proposal is not of sufficient detail to perform further assessment," the statement reads. "If the sponsor or another interested party can advance the concept further and address the need for additional detail in the proposal, it may be worth revisiting in the future."

In September, Wire One Austin presented a concept to the Mobility Authority for an 8.7-mile-long gondola line with 19 stations along Lavaca and South First streets between The University of Texas at Austin and Slaughter Lane in South Austin.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute conducted the study, which was completed in late February and released publicly Friday.

Financing the project, which is estimated to cost between $287 million and $555 million, is likely to be “a significant challenge,” according to the report, because of the competition for local, state and federal dollars.

“The financial feasibility of a gondola system is difficult to gauge without the planning steps to identify need, model travel demand, conduct corridor analyses and evaluate alternatives,” the report states. “Given a limited source of revenues, an investment in an urban gondola will likely require reprioritizing other projects.”

The report also declined to make any recommendations about the concept because of several unknown factors, including concrete ridership estimates, design characteristics, financial considerations, and operations and maintenance costs.

“Central Texas transportation agencies would have to address a number of project development considerations before evaluating future funding opportunities,” according to the report.

Other potential hurdles, according to the report, are the visual impacts the gondola system would have, the need for additional right of way to install the system and potential utility relocations.

In the joint statement, the three agencies stated that funding a gondola system would not be more expensive than any other transportation option. The agencies also do not plan to advance the concept because of a lack of details on alignment, estimates demand, capital costs, and operations and maintenance costs.

"The Wire One proposer (sponsor) would need to perform this work to further develop the proposal and be able to adequately address the project considerations identified in the TTI report," the statement said.
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.