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Ogden dreams of gondolas

OGDEN (AP) — A gondola running between downtown and Weber State University would cost about $30 million, a bargain compared to building a light rail line, according to a study commissioned by Ogden officials.

Denver-based RG Consultants examined two gondola routes from the city's intermodal transportation hub. One would take a direct 3.8-mile run to Weber State from downtown. The other would loop halfway around downtown for 5 miles.

The cost of either route compares favorably with building a light-rail system, which cost Salt Lake City's TRAX system as much as $23 million for a single mile.

The $62,000 Ogden study considered eight- and 12-passenger mono-cable gondolas, which travel 10 to 15 mph and can move 1,000 to 3,500 people per hour.

"This has great potential," said Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey. "The study shows that it's a viable technology that appears to be cost-effective and much less expensive than light rail."

Godfrey also likes the novelty factor, which he believes would attract more riders than the bus system.

"The gondola sends a message about Ogden's strengths — its great natural setting and outdoor amenities," Godfrey said. "This would get people riding that would otherwise not use public transportation."

City administrators will pitch the proposal as part of the long-range transportation plan being developed by the Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Utah Transit Authority. The first phase of that larger plan is due out in early 2005.

"This (gondola) is a little different. It's more out of the box," Ogden Councilman Kent Jorgenson said.

The larger plan will take into account more conventional public transit options, such as expanded bus service, bus rapid-transit systems, streetcars and light rail, comparing costs and environmental impacts.

UTA's standard fares would likely apply if a gondola became part of the larger public-transit system.

Advantages include shorter construction time, no right of way problems and no air or noise pollution. Disadvantages include its slow speed, straight-line technology, boarding and de-boarding problems for the handicapped, and the inability to cool gondolas with air conditioning.

Also, gondola operations would have to be shut down during lightning storms or high winds.

The city gondola study comes as Ogden dropped another study on building a tram to Snowbasin ski resort. City officials don't want to pay for that tram, and Snowbasin owner Earl Holding hasn't volunteered to pick up the cost, either.