By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — One of the state’s most famous tourist attractions, the Cannon Mountain aerial tramway could soon be replaced.
A bill to spend $25 million of the state’s excess revenue in 2023 on a new streetcar was introduced by a new Littleton senator.
Republican Sen. Carrie Gendreau’s bill, Senate Bill 55-FN-A, was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, but no date was set for a hearing.
She was not immediately available for comment Friday as snow fell across the region in what has so far been a challenging winter for the state’s winter tourism economy.
The 70-passenger (80-passenger summer capacity) streetcar with its two cars, three towers and one cable takes passengers 2.3 miles in eight minutes to the highest access lift point in New Hampshire at 4,080 feet.
It is in the heart of Franconia Notch State Park, surrounded by peaks like Mount Lafayette.
On a clear day, summit goers can see Maine, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec in Canada with a 360-degree view.
The lift is considered a summer tourist destination in its own right and winter transportation for skiers at the state-owned and operated Cannon Mountain Ski Area.
The streetcar was installed by an Italian company in 1980 for about $5 million, but in 2021 the state said it has a limited lifespan of about three to five years.
The streetcar replaced a smaller one built in 1938 that was the first of its kind in America.
Open late May through fall foliage season, visitors pay $28 to ride the elevator up and return to the base of the mountain at Echo Lake to explore the hiking trails at the summit, where there is a restaurant at the summit .
This winter it was not yet used by skiers but carried staff and food to the mountaintop restaurant. Normally the tram is only open on weekends in winter, but the paths leading to the tram didn’t have enough snow.
Although there was never a major malfunction, in recent years it has had to be evacuated and some sort of replacement has been envisaged, with a meeting with the public being held in February 2022 to discuss options.
You could choose between repair, complete replacement or the construction of a nacelle.
There was overwhelming public support for a tram over a gondola.
While a nacelle would increase lift capacity by two to five times, it would be more expensive to operate and more vulnerable to winds. The state determined that 14 major components of the existing elevator needed to be repaired and replaced within a short period of time.
Sarah Stewart, the commissioner of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which includes state parks, has called the streetcar “iconic” and an important part of state park operations.
Franconia Notch State Park is considered the crown jewel of the state park system and a driver of much of the revenue. The 6,440-acre property includes Flume Beach and Echo Lake, and there’s even land used to make maple syrup.
Of the 93 state parks, the state says Franconia Notch state parks bring in 48 percent of all state park revenue.
Franconia Notch State Park general manager John DeVivo said in 2021 that replacing the existing streetcar could cost between $24 million and $32 million.
Parks are self-funded but have received significant revenue from the federal government during COVID-19 to help improve their infrastructure and work through a backlog of delayed maintenance.
The ski resort also has a unique financial arrangement in which it receives a portion of the proceeds from a lease of the state’s Mount Sunapee, now leased to Vail Resorts.
However, this revenue would not be enough to pay for such a large replacement or retrofit and is often used for things like septic tank upgrades and smaller projects.
The base and summit buildings, which house one of the two tram cars at night, are large enough to accommodate a larger tram that could carry 100 passengers.
The bill calls for tapping excess revenue for a replacement in fiscal 2023.
Halfway through fiscal 2023, government revenue was up to $200 million higher than estimates and $40 million higher than a year earlier, with business taxes, hospitality/tourism, property transfer tax fees and lottery revenues exceeding current levels needed for budget writers to break even reach budget.