Jefferson Parish seeking federal grant to upgrade Jefferson Highway transit _lowres

Image provided by Jefferson Parish A computer rendering shows the streetscape work that could be funded on Jefferson Highway if Jefferson Parish succeeds at winning a federal TIGER grant in October.

Jefferson Parish is seeking a federal grant to help fund a $22.3 million project it hopes will transform Jefferson Highway into a high-level public transit corridor that complements Ochsner Health System’s planned $360 million expansion along the highway and better connects Jefferson residents with neighboring New Orleans.

The parish is applying for a $17.9 million TIGER grant to help pay for a new transit station, an upgraded maintenance facility, four new environmentally friendly buses, walkways, landscaping and major road improvements.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awards the grants — whose name is an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — each October.

According to a breakdown provided by the parish, the project would include:

$14.2 million in roadway and traffic-flow improvements to Jefferson Highway

$2.5 million for a lighted pathway with landscaping, bike racks and benches.

$2.8 million for four new diesel-hybrid buses.

$1.7 million in upgrades to the present vehicle maintenance facility.

$1.1 million for a new transit hub and transfer station.

Jefferson Transit also plans to revise its routes to better connect Jefferson Parish and Kenner with New Orleans’ Central Business District so as to expand access to jobs and medical care for residents who depend on public transportation.

Parish Transit Director Sharon Leader said Jefferson Transit’s routes in the corridor don’t line up with New Orleans RTA lines, forcing riders to cross major intersections or walk several blocks along a corridor that is not pedestrian-friendly to get from one bus line to another.

“The transfer facility on Jefferson Highway would bring three routes into one area so that riders could easily transfer to other buses that give the riders a greatly improved variety and depth of options for travel,” she said in a statement.

Ochsner has three campuses in that section of Jefferson Highway and has announced plans for major upgrades in the coming years.

On the north and south campuses, the company plans to add six floors to its main hospital tower, double the size of the Gayle & Tom Benson Cancer Center and build an outpatient diagnostic imaging center.

At the nearby site of the former Jefferson Plaza shopping center, Ochsner will build a five-story, $56 million inpatient rehabilitation hospital and a $6 million outpatient clinic for physical and occupational therapy. That site will have retail space as well.

“Ochsner supports this TIGER grant application because this federal transportation investment would help Jefferson Highway become a health care corridor to better serve our patients, our employees and our neighbors,” said Warner Thomas, Ochsner’s president and chief executive officer.

Thomas also noted Ochsner treated people from all 50 states and more than 80 countries last year.

Ochsner and the parish would match the TIGER grant with $4.5 million in local funds from three sources: $220,000 from the parish’s general fund, $750,000 in land to be donated by Ochsner for the transit station and $3.5 million through an economic development district created by the parish earlier this year around the Ochsner campuses.

Economic development districts divert additional sales tax revenue created by a project back into public infrastructure improvements within the district through bonds.

“Leveraging these local dollars for a $17 million federal grant will go a long way toward relieving traffic congestion, beautifying the corridor and improving quality of life in the neighborhoods,” Parish Councilman Paul Johnston said.

Jerry Bologna, president and CEO of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, said the grant application is part of a larger effort to redevelop the entire Jefferson Highway corridor into a mixed-use, walkable community.

Last year, Ochsner Health System and JEDCO worked with the Urban Land Institute to figure out ways to stimulate economic development in the corridor, promote local and regional connectivity, and “brand” the corridor. The goal is to create a “town center” concept with destination health care at its core, Bologna said.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.