ALBANY — Just over a year after the concept was first floated to wide publicity, backers are quietly planning construction of an aerial gondola over the Hudson River between the Rensselaer Amtrak station and downtown Albany.
"We have continued our work on the project, developing plans, meeting with stakeholders and raising private investment capital," said Peter Melewski, project manager for the proposed Capital District Gondola and national director of strategic planning for McLaren Engineering Group of West Nyack, Rockland County.
A detailed ridership and economic impact assessment for the project is being prepared, he said. In addition to providing a scenic option for people arriving at the Rensselaer Amtrak station on business, a feasibility study completed last November concluded an aerial tram would have significant tourism potential. More information is expected after Labor Day, he said.
"The gondola, combined with other visitor attractions, will enhance the area as a major destination," Melewski said.
The idea, first proposed in July 2016, has received support — at least as a concept — from local officials on both sides of the river.
Since it was proposed, plans for the state to spend $15 million on a gondola at the State Fargrounds in Syracuse were announced — an idea many people have ridiculed on social media. Melewski said the projects are different, and each should be judged on its own merits.
Initial construction for the Albany project has been estimated at costing 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, according to McLaren Engineering's November report. Melewski said the current emphasis is on trying to raise private financing. He didn't have a timeline for how quickly money might be raised.
The rail station is owned by the Capital District Transportation Authority. CDTA CEO Carm Basile said he's continued to have contact with the backers over the last year.
"They're legitimately pursuing it," Basile said Wednesday. "There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially in the financial area."
McLaren has identified a one-mile-long corridor between the Amtrak station and a proposed station on South Pearl Street near the Times Union Center. 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.
McLaren is working with is Doppelmayr USA, the U.S. branch of Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-Swiss aerial gondola system maker whose projects include the gondola system built for the London Olympics.
A project scenario developed by McLaren has up to 45 gondola cabins operating 16 hours per day, with the potential to move up to 3,000 people per hour. The travel time across the river would be roughly four minutes — less time than it takes to drive between the two destinations, according to Google Maps.
Public officials including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer have expressed support for the idea, though without making any financial commitments.
Andrew Kennedy, president of the Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit economic development organization in Albany, said he's attended meetings with McLaren's engineering and finance teams in recent months.
"We're excited about the possibility, and from that point of view, you want to be encouraging and hopeful," Kennedy said. "Something like this, if the numbers make sense and there is limited taxpayer money involved, it would be a great thing to have, giving people another option for getting to and from the train station."
He cited the credentials of some of the other partners involved as a reason to take the gondola idea seriously.
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.