Baton Rouge has been selected for a federal transportation department pilot program that will provide technical assistance in the development of the proposed streetcar line in the Nicholson Drive corridor.
The Federal Transit Administration will help the city navigate the planning and environmental analysis to select the best alignment for the line, which will connect downtown and LSU. The Federal Highway Administration also will train city engineers in “complete streets standards” to complement the corridor. Complete streets are usable by cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.
The announcement was made Thursday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Baton Rouge was among seven pilot cities chosen for the new technical assistance program, known as LadderSTEP.
City officials have said the Nicholson Drive corridor is poised for transformation because of developments such as IBM’s downtown service center, the apartment building going up next to it, the Water Campus coastal research center and the mixed-use River District development. More than 3,700 housing units, from condominiums in the River District to 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.
“The goal of LadderSTEP is to help connect the community to jobs and build transportation infrastructure,” said William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden. “One of the criteria is to revitalize distressed neighborhoods, as well, so the corridor is almost a perfect application for this.”
The work done by federal officials as part of LadderSTEP will help build the transit system, Daniel said. “We have a vision for the streetcar, and they are helping us to refine it,” he said. “They’re helping take this from a vision state to a reality state.”
Daniel and Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, said federal transportation officials visited Baton Rouge about a month ago and spent a day checking out the corridor and the route. “They get it,” Rhorer said. “They understand what Baton Rouge is trying to do.”
The LadderSTEP program will work along with a previously approved $1.8 million federal transportation grant to study plans for developing a transit system along the Nicholson corridor. That money is being allocated from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, Grant Program. Daniel said the city-parish is trying to get more TIGER money to implement the system.
John Fregonese, the planner who is helping to implement the FutureBR land-use plan, has said a 7.38-mile streetcar line running from the State Capitol to Tiger Stadium would be feasible, could be built without rebuilding roads and would easily fit under Interstate 10. Fregonese pegged the cost of the streetcar line at $100 million and said a mix of federal and private sources could pay for the project.
While the streetcar line has received much of the attention, Fregonese said other transit systems could be used along Nicholson, such as expanded CATS service or a bus-rapid transit system that combines the efficiency of streetcars with the flexibility of buses.
In addition to Baton Rouge, LadderSTEP also will provide technical assistance in Atlanta; Baltimore; Charlotte, North Carolina; Indianapolis; Phoenix; and Richmond, Virginia.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.