A feasibility study shows a corridor exists to string a gondola from the north side of Breckenridge all the way to the ice rink at the southern end town.
The study also suggests this could be a workable solution to ease Breckenridge's traffic problems, but town council all but rejected the idea during a Tuesday work session, expressing fears it would cost too much and be more of "a novelty" than a real people-moving machine.
"I think just, real simply, we can't afford it," Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence said. "We have a lot of other things we need to do in terms of parking and transit, so when we look at it that way … I just don't see how we can."
Lawrence wasn't alone in her concerns, and almost every council member also expressed a strong reluctance to commit additional town resources to the further examination of a new ropeway system that, depending on its configuration, could cost anywhere from $34 million to $52 million to build and $4.5 to $7 million a year to operate, according to the study.
More than anything, the study was meant to be a preliminary report designed, primarily, to determine if the corridor exists — it does — and give council an idea of how and where a gondola might operate.
The study notes its costs estimates are only ballpark figures, and it presents multiple scenarios for a town-run gondola, the longest of which would run 12,630 feet with stops at Satellite North Parking, Upper Blue Elementary, the rec center, City Market, the Gondola Center and the dredge boat pond before continuing across South Park Avenue and overhead Colorado 9 to reach west of the ice rink.
Getting from the North Satellite Parking to the Gondola Center was framed as the easiest piece of a town gondola, while crossing South Park Avenue and extending to the ice rink is where things get a little "funky," the line crosses private property, existing buildings start to get in the way and it doesn't land exactly where they want it to on the ice rink's parcel of land — east vs. west.
A shorter option includes all the same stops from Satellite North Parking to the Gondola Center as before, with a few alterations after that, including a station at the Riverwalk Center and the end of the line at F Lot. The third option is the shortest of the trio and lists five stops between Satellite North Parking and the Gondola Center.
Regardless of the scenario, the system could be built in pieces or all at once, and the town could save money on the front end by doing things like putting fewer cabins on the line and upgrading as needed.
Regardless the scenario, the authors of the study gave each station a 1,200-foot service radius because that's about as far as they believe someone will walk wearing ski boots and carrying all their gear. As a result, the proposed stations are less than 2,400 feet away from the previous and next stops on the line, creating a long, continuous service area along the proposed gondola routes.
The station locations listed in the study are all "super tentative," and the study also "conservatively" projects the town would save around $500,000 a year by reducing its busing services. Those savings are likely understated, according to the study, and could be significantly greater depending on how many buses are taken off the road and how bus routes are shifted with the construction of a gondola.
Still, with the town bonding out a new, roughly $50 million water-treatment plant and eyeing necessary repairs at the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam, which are expected to come in at $20 million or more, councilman Mark Burke said it's time to focus on "life and safety" projects. For him, building a gondola on top of that would be taking on too much debt for Breckenridge taxpayers.
While many members of council worried about the cost, funding was not nearly as big of an issue for Councilman Mike Dudick, who was primarily concerned that Breckenridge would be financing a gondola system that almost exclusively serves Vail Resorts' customers under the proposed scenarios.
"I'd say we do have the money," he said, explaining the town has different "buckets" for different things, and with roughly $3.5 million in revenue a year from its lift-ticket tax, Breckenridge has about a $75 million bonding capacity for transportation projects.
"The question then becomes what do you choose to spend the money on," he said. "Is that 'X' number of parking spaces and roundabouts, or is it a $20 million ropeway system in the middle of town, plus a couple roundabouts, plus a parking structure? You're going to divvy up how you spend the $75 million, and that doesn't impact any of the life-safety stuff."
Moreover, the general consensus among council was that, should Breckenridge choose to pursue a town-run gondola, it must to be the central piece of a game-changing, comprehensive transit plan that dramatically alters how people get from one place to another. Ideally, Mayor Eric Mamula said, a gondola system would need to have large parking structures at both ends of town to capture cars before they come into town and start to clog up the streets.
Anything short of that, Mamula said, and "it's a novely" he can't support.
"I'm not saying yes or no either way," the mayor said. "What I'm saying is if you can't make this thing work to limit the auto traffic, then it is not worth spending the money."
While the plan appeared dead on arrival at Tuesday's work session, Town Manager Rick Holman stepped in toward the end of discussions to keep the idea on life support. Not hearing much support from council for continuing to study the gondola system, Holman advised holding off on making any decisions until after the next council meeting July 25, when they will get more information about possible parking structure plans.