Could a north-south gondola effectively move people through the town of Breckenridge much like Telluride and Mountain Village pioneered twenty years ago? A team from SE Group presented Phase 1 of its Gondola Transit Study (pages 28-47) to the Breckenridge Town Council on July 11th. The document looks at siting, capacity and cost for a system that could include up to seven stations with the goal of creating a system which reduces traffic congestion, improves connectivity between Breckenridge Ski Resort and the town and enhances the experience of riding transit.
The study’s first siting principle was to serve core destinations from peripheral parking areas to get people out of cars. Another principle placed stations no more than 2,400 feet apart with the assumption that skiers would not willingly walk more than 1,200 feet in winter. The shortest and simplest option would begin at the Satellite North Parking (Station 1) and end at the BreckConnect Gondola (Station 5) with three mid-stations. This option would span 7,530 feet and utilize 84 gondola cabins. The second option (Stations 1-7) would follow the same route but add two more stations at Riverwalk Center (Station 6) and F-Lot parking (Station 7). This one would be 10,395 feet with 116 cabins. The most ambitious alternative, dubbed 1-7b would include the same first five stations but diverge at Gondola Center to the ice rink. This would stretch 12,630 feet with 140 cabins and seven stations. All routes contemplate utilizing separate haul rope loops so that only certain stages could be operated during off-peak times and seasons.
The report notes the first two alternatives could be built easily, as “[they] present few physical barriers; alignments easily pass between existing buildings, transect relatively few private parcels, and appear to have a clear corridor.” The third alternative with stations 6b and 7b reaches more people but a high cost. While the 40-foot corridor for Stations 1-7 encompasses land owned by the Town, CDOT, Vail Resorts, the Summit School District and one private landowner, the alignment for stations 6b and 7b adds four more private parcels and significant complexity.
Ridership estimates are based on existing bus trips with the assumption that more comfortable gondola with less waiting time would induce additional demand. A baseline of 2,800 passengers per hour per direction was contemplated to be ideal, though 1,800 pph could be sufficient. Telluride’s gondola sections move between 660 and 920 passengers per hour, though the town recently conducted its own study on how to boost capacity to meet growing demand.
Of course, everything really comes down to cost. SE Group collaborated with Leitner-Poma to come up with a capital estimate of $34.5 to 52.8 million, including 10 percent contingency. Interestingly, construction of the station buildings is assumed to comprise 50 percent of the cost of the actual lift equipment (the Telluride study left the station buildings out completely.) Operating costs were figured to be $370 per hour for three stations to $863 an hour with seven stations. Operations+maintenance estimates range from $4.5 million to $7 million per year depending on system length. While this sounds high, it becomes more palatable when you consider eliminating duplicate bus service could save Breckenridge $1 million per year. Another $3.5 million per year could come from Breck’s new lift ticket tax and the town could opt to charge a fare.
All in, the gondola would increase the town’s parking and transportation budget 100 to 150 percent. Even so, the study’s conclusions were universally positive:
- “An aerial ropeway system presents and effective and attractive option.”
- “A gondola system would measurably improve existing [traffic] conditions.”
- “Land ownership and present uses of available land continue to present a viable corridor for a gondola system.”
- “Utilization induced by speed, experience and convenience of a gondola would more than double existing bus ridership near-term and could triple use into the future.”
- “It is reasonable to conclude gondola systems are the most cost effective alternative method of mass transit.”
The Town Council now must decide whether to proceed with more detailed analysis and if so, select a preferred alignment. Unfortunately, reactions to the preliminary study last Tuesday were apparently mostly negative. “Real simply, we can’t afford it,” one council member said. “A novelty,” said another. Members tabled any decisions until their next meeting a week from today and you can send your thoughts directly to the council here.