Plans for a tram connecting downtown to LSU are on the fast-track this week after Mayor-President Kip Holden presented the project to the public on Tuesday and will ask the Metro Council on Wednesday for a $10 million bond to kick-start the project.
Holden and Ashley Booth, project manager of the consulting team from HNTB, told the 100 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting that securing local money for the tram’s development is key for having the federal government put forward dollars as well. The $10 million bond the Metro Council will be asked to approve from downtown parking fees is part of the $34 million the city-parish would expect to pay for the $170 million tram.
“If the community doesn’t commit to project development, it really affects our ability to get those federal funds,” Booth said. “We’ve got to have skin in the game.”
Holden said Baton Rouge needs to show a unified front and a deep desire moving forward to turn the tram into a reality. He said the tram would improve quality of life for those who live in Baton Rouge, and that moving the project along during his final year as a term-limited mayor-president is a priority.
“It means a lot,” Holden said. “When people talk about legacy, I don’t want a building. I want them to have something they can use long after I’m gone.”
The tram is envisioned to run from Tiger Stadium to the State Capitol, using Nicholson Drive, St. Ferdinand Street and North Fourth Street between South Stadium Drive and North Street.
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The Rev. Paul Counce, pastor of St. Joseph Cathedral downtown, was one of the attendees who considers the tram with a mixture of concern and excitement. He said he is especially worried about noise and vibration that it would cause, and how those factors could affect Masses and other church events.
“It’s an old building,” he said of the cathedral where the cornerstone was laid in 1853. “We don’t want to subject it to any more stress.”
But Counce said he is also excited by the prospect of a tram that gives people enhanced access to the cathedral, as some parishioners do not want to drive there and have to search for parking.
He and other attendees walked Tuesday through rooms at the Baton Rouge River Center where posters showed detailed plans for the tram. It would run every day of the week. Although fare prices have not been determined yet, city-parish leaders estimate the tram could lead to $1.04 billion in economic development by 2041.
“It’s not a silver bullet but it’s certainly a catalyst and one of the tools to spur economic development,” said Bryan Jones of HNTB.
The expected economic boom caused some worries for Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker. She hoped people living in historic Old South Baton Rouge would still be able to afford their homes if they were surrounded by new development.
She said she is happy to see that the land use plan for the tram focuses on preserving affordable housing.
The local money to pay for the tram will come primarily from the downtown communities that would make the most use of it, Holden and Booth said.
The city-parish anticipates collecting additional money from downtown parking enhancements and fee increases that will pay off the bonded debt.
The updated downtown parking should generate $3 million to $5 million a year.
The city-parish would bond the parking money for a $10 million engineering contract, which would include the tram’s design, construction specifications, the design of the stops along the way, the tram’s governance, maintenance and more.
While the city-parish expects to pay a minimum of 20 percent of the tram’s cost, project leaders believe the remaining 80 percent of the funding could come from the federal government. The city-parish has already applied for a $25 million federal grant, and they will apply for another $85 million federal grant for money that goes only toward projects like streetcars and light rail.
They believe an additional $26 million could come from other local and federal sources.
The tram would also cost $4 million annually to operate. Holden and Booth said they plan on creating an economic development district around the tram in 2017 to help pay for more of the project development.
Those who could not attend the meeting can still submit comments about the tram until July 7.
“Don’t be shy,” Holden said. “Step forward. If there’s something you don’t like, say it.”
Comments can be submitted online at TramLinkBR.com or sent to: K. Stephen Bonnette, P.E., Director, Department of Transportation and Drainage, City of Baton Rouge-Parish of East Baton Rouge, 222 St. Louis Street, 8th floor, Room 880, Baton Rouge, LA 70802.