041917 Proposed bus hub

Transit leaders are preparing to build a new transportation hub in north Baton Rouge and are hoping to include options for bike sharing and ride sharing companies as well as city buses.

The board of the Capital Area Transit System agreed Tuesday to buy 2.5 acres owned by LSU near the intersection of Airline Highway and North Foster Drive. The land is next to the Our Lady of the Lake facility where an emergency room is scheduled to open later this year.

A little more than a quarter of all CATS trips pass through the north hub, emphasizing the need to make the stop more efficient and safe, said CEO Bill Deville.

The land for the new hub has been appraised at $238,000, said CATS chief financial officer Conner Burns. However, the cost of building a new facility on the vacant lot has not been determined. Federal grants are expected to cover 80 percent of the project costs, and CATS officials expect to pay their share with money squirreled away in the general fund, augmented by sponsorships and possibly private donations.

Moving the CATS hubs has been a goal for Deville since he took over leadership of the agency last year. Currently, lines on the north side of town converge around the old Earl K. Long hospital site. In an interview, Deville said the new site by the Lake medical center will help address access to healthcare in the "medical desert" of north Baton Rouge.

Though authorities have not drawn up final plans for the hub, Deville expressed an interest in incorporating other modes of transportation. A bike share program backed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation is scheduled to launch in the fall, and Deville wants to include a rack of rentable bikes at the bus stop. He said CATS has also had conversations with Uber about connecting bus riders with drivers for the ride-sharing app once they reach the hub.

The proposed site would also have more amenities than a typical stop. Deville envisions features as modest as bathrooms and as elaborate as retail shops. If the hub and medical facility can draw a substantial crowd to the location, they may even be able to support a grocery, he reasoned.

CATS must perform an environmental study so the project can qualify for federal funding. The ribbon-cutting date will depend on how long that study takes, but Deville hopes the hub can open next year or in 2019.

The sale of the land will also require approval by LSU, but officials there have expressed interest in selling to CATS, Burns said.

Deville hopes the new north Baton Rouge transit center will serve as a model as CATS attempts to relocate and upgrade its other hubs throughout the city.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.