City-parish authorities on Monday revealed their preferred route for the proposed Baton Rouge tram: a direct line between Tiger Stadium and the State Capitol.
With the selection of the straight-shot route, a final cost estimate is beginning to materialize for the much-discussed but not yet funded project.
Officials considered two other designs, each of which incorporated downtown loops. However, the favored choice calls for north and southbound trams to run on Nicholson Drive, St. Ferdinand Street and North Fourth Street between South Stadium Drive and North Street. Various officials lauded the selection as less expensive, easier to use, and quicker and less disruptive to build.
In a Monday news release, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden also revealed the locations for 10 stops. Riders would be able to board at North Street, Florida Boulevard, North Boulevard, Government/Spain streets, Europe Street, the entrance to the future Water Campus, Van Buren Street, McKinley Street, Aster Street and North Stadium Road with “alternate or future stops at Oklahoma and Galvez,” the release states.
With a route selected, crews can finish the environmental assessments, design the construction plans in greater detail and assemble a financial plan, said Ashley Booth, project manager of the consulting team.
The total cost of construction could be in the area of $150 million to $200 million, he said, pointing to other recent streetcar projects. The Tucson, Arizona, Sunlink, built in 2014, cost $197 million. Detroit’s M-1 Rail is expected to cost about $167 million by the time construction concludes later this year. However, both of those projects are slightly longer than the Baton Rouge route, which will require 5.7 miles of track.
In a comparison of six other recent streetcar projects, locals had to put up between 38 and 66 percent of the funding to build the lines and buy the trams. Booth said Baton Rouge leaders want to get at least 50 percent of their program funding from the federal government.
The city-parish already is on the hook for $2.7 million for design, environmental assessments and other early costs, though $1.7 million was funded by a federal grant, said Steve Bonnette, director of the city-parish Department of Transportation and Drainage. Local leaders will apply for the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts grant for the actual construction, and Bonnette said they “feel pretty confident” the money will come through.
From Atlanta to Portland, Oregon, local governments have paid their share with tax-increment financing, sales tax, donations, parking revenue and contributions from their states or regional bodies, among other sources.
Booth and Bonnette said they have not yet determined where Baton Rouge will come up with its share of the cost. In Tucson, the city looked to the University of Arizona to help defray operational costs once the streetcar began running, though Booth and Bonnette said it is too early to determine how financially involved LSU may be in the future. Baton Rouge authorities also are investigating ticket prices but haven’t yet disclosed what they expect to charge for fare.
The tram steering committee expects that, once the tracks are down, it will cost about $4 million per year to run the streetcars. To reach that number, they assumed the tram cars would run every day about 15 to 20 minutes apart. Generally, their hours would be from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., though service would run later on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
It is unclear who will run the streetcar system. Bonnette said the city may contract with a private company or look to the Capital Area Transit System.
“CATS would very much like the opportunity to operate the tram,” spokeswoman Amie McNaylor wrote in an email.
“If CATS were to be selected as the operator, it would provide a chance for a seamless integration of technology platforms, allowing customers to take advantage of not only one method for purchasing tickets but also planning a trip across the service area.”
Following Monday’s announcement of the route, Downtown Development District Director Davis Rhorer shared his own excitement.
“I’m very pleased with the route,” he said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for future growth. … I think it opens up all sorts of possibilities.”
Rhorer said the chosen route is still accessible to people downtown and would connect people who want to visit LSU for games and performances and students who want to eat downtown and residents in the middle who want to shop or ride to work.
In other cities with new streetcars, “development has really sparked” along the rails, Rhorer said.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.