CATS tweaking service in bid to improve public transit _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Passengers wait at Cortana Mall for a bus transfer

A significant portion of the federal funding needed to execute what city-parish leaders have pegged as the state's first bus rapid transit project was secured this week. 

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the Capital Area Transit System and Build Baton Rouge in a joint statement Thursday announced that the city-parish is receiving $15 million in discretionary federal grant funding that has been earmarked for the Plank Road/Nicholson Drive Bus Rapid Transit project. 

The announcement came a day after Build Baton Rouge, the city-parish's redevelopment authority, unveiled its Plank Road redevelopment plan for North Baton Rouge, which will have the bus rapid line as an anchor.

"This major federal investment in Baton Rouge transit is the result of deliberate and thoughtful transit planning, our community’s strong desire for vital transportation linkages between our neighborhoods and a demonstration of our willingness to maximize federal funds to implement a transformational transportation project," Broome said in a statement.

The express bus line is a revamped concept of the controversial downtown-LSU tram touted by former East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden but scrapped once Broome took office.

The 9-mile route will link North Baton Rouge, the downtown area and LSU through a high-capacity line that features enhanced transit stations with real-time information, including bus arrival times and level boarding, unique branded vehicles and other enhancements designed to make the transit line attractive to existing and prospective riders

Chris Tyson, CEO of Build Baton Rouge, said the bus rapid transit line will not only serve as the catalyst for redevelopment of Plank Road, but simultaneously serve as the catalyst for connecting north and south Baton Rouge, anchored by downtown, unlike any other project in recent memory. 

The $15 million grant, which Congressman Garret Graves said is being awarded through the federal government's Better Utilizing Infrastructure to Leverage Development program (or BUILD), represents 37% of the project's estimated $40 million price tag. 

The city-parish and CATS intends to leverage other funding sources for the remaining 63% needed, specifically for non-bus and transit station elements of the project.

The project is slated to include a new bus transfer center along Airline Highway near the Our Lady of the Lake North Emergency Room, 22 pairs of stations and a layover facility at the southern terminus. Additional corridor infrastructure improvements will enhance connectivity to stations, improve pedestrian safety, provide ADA compliance, streamline traffic and transit operations, and enhance operational effectiveness of the rapid service line, officials said.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council in July approved $400,000 in funding to pay for engineering and project management services related to the project. The city-parish shared in those costs with CATS, who also put up more than $400,000 for the agreement with the national consulting firm handling the preliminary work on the project. 

Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com