By Quinn Welsch
LSU and downtown Baton Rouge could become a little closer in the next few years as plans for a potential railcar line between the two locations takes shape.
The roughly 3.5-mile project would begin in the three years, if funding is approved, and finish in five, said Mike Bruce, a traffic engineer for Stantec, the consulting company hired for the job. The goal of the project is to relieve traffic and revitalize the Nicholson corridor, he said.
For now, things are still in the planning phase, which will begin in the spring and take one year to finish, Bruce said.
In fact, at this point, the railcars, also known as tram lines, aren’t the only option, said Amanda LaGrange, a grant writer for the city. The city applied for a “high capacity transit system,” she said, which could mean other transportation modes – though the railcar is definitely in the running, she said.
Railcars have been around since the early 19th century, and Louisiana boasts one of the oldest lines in the world. But railcars in the state have been exclusive to New Orleans. With the newly awarded grant money, that may change.
The city was awarded a planning grant of about $1.8 million in federal money in September for a potential connection between LSU and downtown via Nicholson Drive. An additional $1 million was matched by the city for a total of $2.8 million.
The grant, coincidentally named the TIGER grant (or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant if you want to be technical), is a highly competitive federal grant awarded to communities seeking long-term investments in livability, economic recovery and sustainability. Since the grant’s inception in 2009, Congress has dedicated more than $4.1 billion in its funds to projects around the country, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website.
This is the first time Baton Rouge has received the grant, LaGrange said. And it comes at a time when both downtown and the Nicholson corridor are growing, said Downtown Development Director Davis Rhorer.
“If you look at what the private sector is doing along Nicholson, then you have a real urban response to sprawl,” Rhorer said.
Projects in the Nicholson corridor are set to begin in the next few months, Rhorer said. Some of those developments include the new Water Campus research facility as well as commercial and residential zones at LSU and at the developing River District.
“There is a large number of people to move in between both locations,” Rhorer said. “Tram is appealing to a lot of people.”
A tram line on Nicholson Drive is also highlighted in FutureBR, the city’s 20-year land use plan. FutureBR’s tram line calls for a connection to Perkins Road down to about Siegen Lane.