Edmonton

Edmonton city council approves first step for gondola across North Saskatchewan River

A proposal from a private company to build a gondola across Edmonton's river valley will keep moving forward after city council on Monday approved an important first step.

Prairie Sky Gondola says it doesn't want any money from the city for the project

The tramway in Portland, Oregon. Prairie Sky Gondola wants to string cable cars across the North Saskatchewan River between downtown and Whyte Avenue. (Share Oregan)

A proposal from a private company to build a gondola across Edmonton's river valley will keep moving forward after city council approved an important first step.

In an 8-5 vote Monday, council endorsed a framework for a working relationship with Prairie Sky Gondola.

The company wants to string cable cars across the North Saskatchewan River between downtown and Whyte Avenue, a popular south-side avenue that's home to bars, restaurants and stores.

Prairie Sky Gondola says it doesn't want any money from the city for the project, which the company says would cost between $132 million and $155 million.

"It would be one thing if folks were coming to the city of Edmonton saying, 'We have this really great idea — all you need to do is spend $100 million,"' Mayor Don Iveson said before voting in favour of the framework.

"What's actually happening here is someone coming and saying, 'Hey, we think we want to spend $100 million or more in your community to do something cool that we think we can make work economically."

Iveson said it's important for the city to send a message to private investors that it's open for business and willing to work with them on proposals.

Despite council's go-ahead, the project will still need to go through several detailed studies, including a transportation impact assessment, environmental impact assessment and geotechnical assessment.

The approval of land will also need to be considered by council, and there are some provincial and federal approvals that are required.

Some councillors were skeptical about moving forward with the idea.

"It is too good to be true to me," Coun. Mohinder Banga said during debate.

"I would love to see our city doing good in the attractions portion," he said. "My only problem is I don't think I am willing or should be putting taxpayer dollars even at a little bit of risk.

"This is not the time."

'More hurdles'

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said her constituents believe the city should be focused on its own transit system.

"I owe it to those people that they are able to get to work and school on time before I can move on from that," she said.

During a committee meeting last week, council members also heard from about 30 people from the community.

Some were supportive of the proposal, while others were concerned about a lack of public input and the potential environmental effects on the river valley.

Several councillors raised similar concerns Monday, but said they were willing to support moving forward with the proposal's next step, because it will both allow input and further study.

"There's a lot more hurdles," said Coun. Ben Henderson. "The question about the environmental impact is a valid one that needs to be looked at. But we need the data in front of us to do that and we won't have that until the next stage.

"If the answers come back and they say there is significant environmental problems ... then that would probably be a stop."

Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, president and CEO of Prairie Sky, told last week's meeting that it would take 18 months to reach a design fully approved by all levels of government. It would then take another 18 months to build the gondola, with the goal to be up and running by spring 2024, Hansen-Carlson said. 

Once the gondola is up and running, the gondola is expected to cost about $8.5 million a year to operate. 

According to a preliminary feasibility study for the project, the gondola cables would be suspended from 20 towers posted along the route, hoisting 78 cabins that could hold up to 10 passengers at a time.

A one-way trip would take about 12 minutes. It's believed 1,800 people could travel per hour in each direction.

The gondola would run 16 hours a day. Prairie Sky has committed to integrating the gondola into the existing city transit system.

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