Baton Rouge has been awarded a $1.8 million federal transportation grant to study plans to develop a high-capacity transit system along Nicholson Drive to better connect LSU and downtown.

U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter announced the grant award Tuesday. The money is being allocated from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, Grant Program.

There has been discussion about developing a streetcar line between LSU and downtown, because of all the large-scale construction projects either underway or slated to begin. Those include the IBM Service Center downtown, the Water Campus coastal research center and the River District mixed-use development. More than 3,700 housing units, from condominiums in the River District to new residential units at LSU, are either under construction on the drawing board. More than 2 million square feet of commercial and office space also is in the works.

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 a letter she sent to Anthony Foxx, Transportation secretary, earlier this year, Landrieu said solutions are needed to accommodate the growth between LSU and downtown, without adding vehicles to the road.

“With improved infrastructure we can connect two areas vital to Baton Rouge’s success and allow everyone greater access to the city,” Landrieu said.

Vitter said the Nicholson project is part of $12 million in federal transportation funds the state is getting. Also included are $10 million for barge fleeting improvements and dredging in Lake Charles and $304,000 for Lafayette officials to create an Interstate 49 south corridor plan.

“Making sure our infrastructure is up-to-date will continue to be a top priority, and these grants will certainly help Louisiana move forward and accommodate our growth in these areas,” Vitter said.

Mayor-President Kip Holden and LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said the grant will benefit LSU and downtown.

“This generous grant will help LSU’s own redevelopment program focused on connecting students with the larger community,” Alexander said.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.