Proposal for urban gondola system in Austin will not move forward

Illustration of Wire One Austin at the intersection of South First Street and Powell Circle. (Texas A&M Transportation Institute)
Illustration of Wire One Austin at the intersection of South First Street and Powell Circle. (Texas A&M Transportation Institute)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The plan to build a gondola cable car system in Austin, in what would have been the largest system of its type in the world, is not moving forward.

In a list of shared conclusions released by Capital Metro, the transit agency says gondolas are best suited to “niche” applications and not as a primary way of moving people as part of a regional transportation network. The door is being left open in the event another interested party wants to study the concept.

Last fall, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, along with the city of Austin and Capital Metro all chipped in money for a $16,000 study on a proposed urban gondola system called Wire One Austin. The finalized report provides a description of the system, background on similar systems worldwide and what other items would need further consideration if Wire One Austin continues into project development. The report did not make any recommendations regarding the “overall suitability of the gondola.”

Gondola map of route and stop locations for Wire One Austin. (Courtesy: Texas A&M Transportation Institute)
Gondola map of route and stop locations for Wire One Austin. (Courtesy: Texas A&M Transportation Institute)

Wire One Austin would be a monocable system that would run north to south from the University of Texas campus to West Slaughter Lane, mainly following Lavaca and South First Streets. The 8.7-mile system would have 19 stops along the route and consist of two 4.2-mile main lines and a third .25-mile line that connects the South Congress Transit Center to South First Street.

The cabin on a monocable system carries 15 passengers and can carry 3,600 passengers every hour at speeds of 13 mph. The study indicates it would take 40 minutes to travel from Slaughter Lane to Cesar Chavez Street and another 6 minutes from Cesar Chavez Street to UT-Austin.

The estimated cost? Somewhere between $287-$555 million depending on design option for stations. Plus an additional $3-$6 million in annual operating costs.

Currently, no other cities in the United States are using gondolas in an urban environment; however, the city of Telluride does operate a gondola between the city center and a ski resort. The report states other cities are interested in the idea of gondolas though. San Diego, Washington, D.C. and Albany have all completed urban gondola feasibility assessments — but all of their proposals have a line length of fewer than 2 miles, whereas Austin’s runs nearly 9 miles long. The gondola system in Medellin, Colombia is the most extensive development in the world.

The report states transportation agencies would have to consider regional and corridor-level planning, travel demand forecasting and funding options if this project were to move forward. Environmental impacts deemed highest risk are utilities, aesthetics and parkland space. One of the biggest hurdles for this project would be the funding and financing.

The Wire One proposal isn’t included in the CAMPO 2040 Regional Transportation Plan or any current modal transportation plans at this time.

Illustration of overhead station at Riverside Drive and South First Street. ((Courtesy: Texas A&M Transportation Institute)
Illustration of overhead station at Riverside Drive and South First Street. ((Courtesy: Texas A&M Transportation Institute)

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