(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The Roosevelt Island Tram will take to the skies above the East River this morning after shutting down for nine months of repairs. The $25 million overhaul was supposed to take six months. But the Roosevelt Island Operating Cooperation says delays were caused by city and state reviews and stretches of bad weather. In the meantime, the tram's approximately 2 million riders per year have been getting back and forth to Queens and Manhattan by bus, bridge and F train, each of which takes a lot longer than a four-minute ride by gondola.
All but the base of the tram's three towers have been replaced. Refurbished red cars have bigger windows for better views and waiting rooms and stations have been renovated and repainted. The cars will also travel along a wider cable designed to allow for faster service and less turbulence in high winds.
Safety has been an issue with the tram. A power outage in 2006 left 69 people trapped inside a gondola, dangling 200 feet above the river for several hours. Eight months before that incident, 80 riders were trapped on the tram for 90 minutes after a power outage.
The tram began service in 1976, about a year after the island itself opened to residents. A subway to Queens that served Roosevelt Island opened in 1989 but by then the tram had proved itself not only useful but iconic, so it remained in operation.