GONZALES — If commuter rail service is developed between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Gonzales wants to be ready.
Plans have been drawn up for a 300-foot-long, open-air platform, along with an enclosed passenger waiting area and, perhaps, a public plaza. A recently completed master plan for the train station envisions a reinvigorated downtown, with pedestrian and biking paths leading to and from the train station. A new park in the oldest part of the city is possible, too.
"A rail station would not only serve the city's residents, but act as an attractive gateway to the city," says the report, completed this month by the Houston office of Arup, an international architectural and engineering firm.
Gonzales paid Arup $100,000 for its suggestions. The study was funded 50 percent by the city and 50 percent by a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration that was awarded by the Southern Rail Commission.
City officials and representatives from Arup will present the master plan to the public at 10 a.m. Sept. 5 at City Hall.
Twice-daily trains along the $260 million commuter rail line would connect downtown Baton Rouge with downtown New Orleans. Intermediate stops are planned for suburban Baton Rouge, Gonzales, LaPlace, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and Jefferson Parish.
"We're not going to start building a train station, until the commuter line is a reality," Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceaneaux said last week. "By the same token, we want to be ready."
This summer, a consultant unveiled preliminary concepts for Baton Rouge stations in downtown and near the Baton Rouge General and Our Lady of the Lake hospitals.
In Gonzales, the property on North Bullion Avenue where a train station would stand was purchased by the city in 2015 for that purpose. Largely an undeveloped field now, the site had once been home to a train depot in years past.
Gonzales was along a rail line that provided daily passenger service between Kansas City, Missouri, and New Orleans until the 1960s. The Southern Belle train stopped in Baton Rouge on each trip. Gonzales was a "flag stop," meaning trains stopped only if someone wanted to board or exit.
"The big picture of the study is the surrounding road network and access" to the new train station the city hopes to have in the future, city engineer Jackie Baumann said last week.
"Basically, the design team gave ideas on how existing streets could be modified to one day accommodate bike paths, sidewalks and on-site parking for the station," Baumann said.
The master plan goes from those big-picture ideas down to the details of what would be needed inside the train station itself, estimated project costs and a timeline of actions the city would need to take to bring the station to Gonzales.
The Arup firm estimates the cost of the platform and station at approximately $5.8 million.
"We believe there are some grants out there, not just for Gonzales, but for the whole group" of communities involved, Arceneaux said.
"It's a long process," said John Spain, chairman of the Southern Rail Commission. "We are still trying to develop funding for the infrastructure improvements that would be needed."