Millennium Partners, the developer behind Boston's soaring Millennium Tower, is currently in talks with state and local officials in what may be their most innovative project yet. The firm seeks to ease the commute throughout the burgeoning Seaport neighborhood by constructing a gondola system that would transport as many as 15,000 people a day between South Station and the Seaport District. Though it sounds like a whimsical proposal, Millennium has already expressed their willingness to contribute up to $100 million to get the project off the ground.
Glancing at a map of developments in the neighborhood, it's easy to see why the Seaport has become the epicenter of innovative businesses. Amazon, GE and Red Hat all have plans to open branches in the district. Its distinct neighborhood character has helped spur growth organically and attract new businesses. The stylish brick and beam buildings in the area have catered to more open, collaborative spaces, which are in demand by companies of varying types and sizes, and with business flocking to the neighborhood, the city has grown desperate to find ways of easing traffic congestion.
In recent years, the city has taken multiple actions to solve the traffic issues, including developing private shuttle systems and expanding the MBTA Silver Line. However, as Boston state Representative Nick Collins points out, the problem at hand rests in the streets themselves. "We have this issue in Boston, particularly down on the waterfront: There's no more room on the streets from the cars," Collins contends. In 2016, the typical driver in Boston and surrounding suburbs spent 58 hours in rush-hour traffic, according to traffic data and analytical firm Inrix. Millennium has proposed an out-of-the-box approach to curb ground traffic through the development of an aerial tramway.
While Governor Charlie Baker has not yet publicly issued his comments on the proposal, U.S. Representative Stephen F. Lynch has shared his thoughts. "The aerial gondola system proposed for the South Boston Waterfront is one of the most innovative and viable solutions to our local transportation needs," Lynch suggests. "I've had a chance to review the preliminary plans and look at one of the gondola models, and I have encouraged Millennium Partners to move forward. This is the start of a process, but I am genuinely excited about the possibilities".
While a gondola system sounds like an unconventional approach to a fundamental problem, it has been met with success in other major American cities. Both New York City and Portland, Oregon have implemented gondola systems in major urban environments. Portland's aerial tramway runs 3,300 feet and cost an estimated $57 million to build. A tram has long traveled between Manhattan and the East River's Roosevelt Island in New York.
Millennium has reportedly already produced a promotional video for the project, as well as a full-scale model of one of the gondola pods to show to public officials. Lynch, one of the public officials included in the exhibition, has claimed that by his understanding, the proposed gondola system would involve cable cars that could fit as many as 40 passengers. He'd prefer that the system be owned and operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, arguing a private operator may charge too much for service. Lynch has declined requests for further comments.
Millennium and the Boston Planning & Development Agency have stressed that the idea is preliminary. Yet with several residential, office and retail developments planned for the Seaport District, the growing concerns of traffic congestion continue to loom throughout the neighborhood.
Take a closer look into the growing number of developments throughout the Seaport District via our Crane Watch map.