Steven Grillo, vice president of the SIEDC, framed the project at the time as plausible but not necessarily likely. Even Bayonne’s city planner questioned whether the light rail would be able to sustain higher ridership and whether financing for such a project would be feasible. “At this point it’s supposed to get people to think outside the box,” Grillo responded last September.
Now he has local officials on both sides of the Kill Van Kull on board with the idea. Laetner-Poma, the company that designed both Bayonne’s lone wind turbine and the aerial gondola concept, will be responsible for pooling venture capital to fund the private project.
The idea is “moving forward,” according to a joint press release from Bayonne Mayor James Davis, Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, who sits on the Assembly Transportation Committee, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who chairs the committee. The Metro Transit Authority allocated $4 million in its budget to perform an engineering and feasibility study, which required the mayor’s cooperation and is due to be completed in 2018.
What’s also helped move the needle is Bayonne inching closer to gaining ferry service from the former Military Ocean Terminal Base. “Oh yes, [a gondola] will certainly work,” said Davis. “Especially if we have a ferry.”
The original design envisioned an aerial gondola carrying pods of commuters 151 feet above the Kill Van Kull from Elm Park in Staten Island to the 8th Street Light Rail station in Bergen Point. With the prospect of ferry service in Bayonne, that route could extend all the way to the former Military Ocean Terminal Base where the ferry slip would be constructed.
“That’s the beauty of gondolas.They’re extremely flexible,” Grillo said.“You just need a tower anywhere you want to turn the gondola.”
“As we look to the future, the potential development of an aerial gondola is a natural fit.” – Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti
“The future of transportation in the New York metro region, we firmly believe, has to include aerial transport,” said Grillo, while citing a dozen other cities in the country that are seriously considering gondola transit systems. “You can only go under the ground for so long with subways, and you run out of right of ways on the ground with light rails. Why not go in the air?”
Grillo predicts that in the next 20 years, aerial gondolas will be commonplace in the New York-New Jersey region.
Grillo calls aerial gondolas a “simple, reliable, and cost-effective” solution to the region’s mass transit problem.Assemblyman Chiaravalloti said more mass transit options would strengthen Hudson County’s “economic engine.”
“Part of our strength is our commitment to mass transit such as buses, ferries and light rail,” he said. “As we look to the future, the potential development of an aerial gondola is a natural fit.”
Assemblyman Wisniewski said the project would be an “innovative way to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation.” He said having local government on board is a “unique opportunity.”
“One of the traffic realities in New Jersey is that a lot of the traffic in your town is people traveling through,” he said of roads like Route 440 that have a lot of Staten Island commuters driving to park at light rail and PATH stations in Hudson County. This results in more wear and tear on the roads and the maintenance costs. “It’s traffic arbitrage,” he said.
The aerial gondola project would cost a fraction of what it would to extend the light rail system over the bridge to connect to Staten Island’s proposed light rail system on its western shore. That project could run more than $10 billion, which would require contributions from NJ Transit, which only recently was injected with sustainable funding. A gondola system would cost much less to build, but as a separate entity from public transit agencies, would have a separate pricing system. Public transit commuters on their way to Manhattan may have to purchase separate tickets from four different agencies between the West Shore Light Rail in Staten Island, the aerial gondola, the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, and the ferry service from Bayonne, or the PATH.
Grillo said single-fare systems are ideal for an integrated transit system and would be sorted out in later stages. “Getting the gondola constructed will definitely be the hard part,” Grillo said. What’s important at this stage, he said, is working with local officials and “getting on people’s agendas that Staten Island wants to connect with Hudson County.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.