TUCSON , Arizona — Arizona leaders on Tuesday added more fuel to the argument for Baton Rouge to move forward with a Nicholson Drive trolley that would transport passengers between LSU and downtown.
Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley and other area transit advocates touted Tucson’s success story for its creation of a modern 4-mile electric trolley that connects the University of Arizona to downtown Tucson — an area that had for years been blighted with empty buildings.
For the past year or so, Baton Rouge leaders have prioritized a proposed 3.1-mile trolley line that would run down Nicholson Drive, connecting LSU and downtown Baton Rouge. The estimated cost for the project is $100 million that leaders have said would be funded by a mix of private and federal funding.
The Tucson trolley cost $89 million in local funding and another $63 million was funded by a federal grant, Farley said. It has an annual budget of $3.1 million for operations and maintenance.
The idea is that a trolley in Baton Rouge would revitalize and attract businesses to the corridor connecting the two areas, adding momentum to downtown, which is undergoing its own renaissance.
Farley said investment in transportation had an immediate impact.
Tucson’s trolley, which was included in a broader $2.1 billion transportation tax plan approved by voters, was completed in 2014. The plan included proposed light rail and bike paths. The transit plan and tax was approved by voters in 2006.
Before the trolley even opened for business, the private sector invested $380 million, developing the corridor and downtown in a period of 48 months, said Michael Keith, the Downtown Tucson CEO.
Another $162 million in private investment is in the works, including retail and residential developments.
Private investments generated by the trolley have created some 3,000 jobs and 2,500 additional student housing units, Keith said.
About 4,000 passengers ride the trolley each day, and ridership is continuing to grow.
Meanwhile, Baton Rouge leaders championing their own trolley concept are moving forward with the plan. They have secured a $1.8 million federal grant. The city-parish also provided another $1 million from traffic impact fees.
The money is being used to fund an environmental impact study and create an engineering concept. The contract is in the bidding process.
People involved in large-scale construction projects planned between LSU and downtown are also champions of the transit investment. Those include the IBM Service Center, the Water Campus coastal research center and the River District mixed-use development.
More than 3,700 housing units, including condominiums in the River District and new residential units at LSU, are either under construction or on the drawing board. More than 2 million square feet of commercial and office space also is in the works.
“It’s not just about economic development,” Farley said. “It’s about what a trolley can do for the community’s soul.”
The trolley and transportation infrastructure presentation was the final discussion of the three-day Super Region Canvas trip that brought about 150 business and civic leaders from Baton Rouge and New Orleans to Phoenix and Tucson.