An aerial gondola running high over the Hudson River between downtown Albany and the Rensselaer train station is technically feasible, according to the engineering firm that proposed the idea.
McLaren Engineering Group on Wednesday released a feasibility study developed in recent months on connecting the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station to downtown Albany with a gondola system, a project the firm says could serve rail commuters and also generate dollars from sightseers.
“It started out solving a problem, but once it starts we think most of [ridership] will be tourism,” said Peter Melewski, McLaren’s national director of strategic planning. “There are other places where a gondola not only serves a purpose but serves as a destination.”
Initial construction is estimated at between $17 million and $20 million, with annual operating costs of about $2.4 million. These costs could potentially be offset by a mix of private funds, passenger ticket revenue, advertising, and public funds, he said.
The next step will be taking a closer look at how the gondola could be financed, Melewski said.
“We saw an ability here to solve a long-term problem. So far, it has gone better than we expected,” said Melewski, a former state Thruway Authority engineer who is based in Albany.
The study, launched when the concept was first announced in July, identified a one-mile-long corridor between the Amtrak Station and a proposed station on South Pearl Street near the Times Union Center, where the project could be built with minimal environmental impacts. In a later phase, the gondola could continue to the Empire State Plaza.
The gondolas would run on cables anchored to towers on each side of the river. Such systems being used for public transportation are rare in the United States, but are found in other parts of the world.
Among the firms McLaren is working with is Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-Swiss aerial gondola system maker whose projects include the gondola system built for the London Olympics.
“Building off these initial findings, our project team will continue to work closely with stakeholders to secure funding, continue ridership and rider cost analysis, advance the design, and obtain necessary reviews and approvals,” Melewski said.
Potential ridership is anticipated to be in the hundreds of thousands of people each year. The study found the gondola could function 16 hours a day, seven days a week, in most weather conditions, and is designed to initially accommodate 1,200 people per hour.
Gondola cars could arrive every 30 seconds traveling at a speed of 14 miles per hour — allowing a travel time of four minutes between the Rensselaer station to downtown Albany.
Public officials are expressing interest in the idea, though without making any financial commitments.
“This project will give Capital Region residents and visitors another way to get around that is fun, fast, and efficient,” saidU.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam. “I am pleased to see all the proper steps were taken with this study, and that construction can be done in an environmentally sound manner.”
There’s hope that the gondola would attract visitors as well as offering a new option to the 825,000 people annually who come through the rail station.
“Just as the iconic skyline of Albany is best seen from Rensselaer, the addition of a gondola will further economic development on both sides of the river and reconnect our cities in a way not seen since the early 1900s,” said Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer.
An economic development official also weighed in with support for the idea.
“This project has the potential to help revitalize downtown Albany and Rensselaer, as well as provide an alternative transportation option for Amtrak riders and downstate residents that could bolster tourism and business development in the Capital Region,” said Andrew Kennedy, president and CEO of the Regional Center for Economic Growth.
The partners with McLaren include Doppelmayr, Capital Gondola LLC, Camoin Associates, Lemery Greisler, Urban Gondola Systems LLC, and Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc. So far, all the development work has been self-funded.
If funding were secured by next summer, general construction could begin in April 2018 and the gondola would be fully operational by December 2019, the McLaren study said.
The complete study is available on the McLaren website at www.mgmclaren.com.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazette on Twitter.