Thursday, September 29, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

CTRMA board gives the go-ahead to gondola study

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is leaving the future of mass transit to hang.

On Wednesday, the CTRMA board of directors approved without any dissent a small stipend to study the feasibility of a proposed gondola system in South Austin.

“We’re not a pavement company; we’re a mobility company,” said Chair Ray Wilkerson of the agency more typically known for its toll road projects. “We’re supposed to look at congestion concerns and avenues to relieve that congestion any way we can. Whether this goes further or not, I’m glad this board is open-minded enough just to start discussing other avenues, whatever they may be.”

The vote loosened $5,250 in CTRMA money to match the same amount from both the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the city of Austin to pay the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to take a nine-week look at designer Jared Ficklin’s Wire One proposal. The total cost of the study is $15,750. Neither City Council nor Capital Metro’s board will have to vote to approve their jurisdiction’s share.

Earlier this month, Ficklin presented his vision for an 8-mile “urban cable” system that would swoop passengers among 19 stations between the University of Texas campus and South First Street and Slaughter Lane. Ficklin formulated Wire One after years of promoting without success a similar concept in Austin.

He called the vote “spectacular” and said it represents a milestone. “And it’s not just excellent on the local level. We’re suddenly taking a leadership position in the U.S.,” Ficklin said.

Capital Metro coordinated with TTI on the scope of work that the study will entail. Researchers will first review similar systems from around the world. They then will take a broad look at potential demand and capacity before assessing potential economic and environmental impacts, safety concerns and possible costs and funding sources. Compiling the findings into a final report will take four weeks.

Before Wednesday’s vote, board Member Nikelle Meade said, “I know there is a lot of skepticism in the transportation community about whether this is workable and whether it’s viable, but I feel like a study like this with a reputable agency like TTI is where we start.”

Ficklin told the Monitor that he’s confident the study will prove his idea can work. He added that Wire One could be the start of a new “Texas mobility model.”

“I see this future where we’re all riding around in our autonomous vehicles and hopping on the Wire and hopping off and riding our bikes on quiet streets and stuff,” said Ficklin. “You know, the kind of stuff you read about in Heinlein.”

Render created by argodesign.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

CTRMA: The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. A governmental agency created, according to its web site, in 2002 to "improve the transportation system in Williamson and Travis counties." The site also notes that the agency's "mission is to implement innovative, multi-modal transportation solutions that reduce congestion and create transportation choices that enhance quality of life and economic vitality." In addition to other responsibilities, the agency oversees a set of toll roads in the region.

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