New restaurants, shops and a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere are all the hype for the future of Government Street, but the project still has a long way to go.
The public has not yet had the chance to weigh in on the upgrades that represent what many city-parish residents and leaders have called for — added walkability and bikeability to the city.
Public meetings likely will be rescheduled in about a month, according to Mike Bruce, a principal with Stantec, the design consultant for the project. A Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development spokeswoman confirmed they have not yet rescheduled a meeting after canceling an open house set for early February.
Previous meetings were canceled because the city-parish and the state have been “working out some technical issues,” according to Bruce. He said the community meetings will allow the public to weigh in on some alternative design plans and to express concerns.
The project is estimated to cost between $8 million and $10 million.
Baton Rouge leaders envision downsizing Government Street from four lanes to two lanes with a center turning lane and lining the road with bike paths and sidewalks. The changes would span a 4-mile stretch of Government Street from Interstate 110 to Lobdell Avenue.
Walkability and bikeability have become buzzwords in Baton Rouge as of late. City leaders have acknowledged the city’s reputation for being unfriendly to those who are not driving vehicles to get from place to place.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council passed a “Complete Streets” policy in late November meant to trigger more options for the parish’s walkers and bikers. Many road improvement projects in the city-parish Green Light Plan, which is funded by sales tax dollars, include sidewalks.
Gardere Lane, Old Hammond Highway and O’Neal Lane are a few of the streets that will have sidewalks added to them. BREC also has plans to add more trails around the city in response to the public’s call for more places to walk and ride bikes.
Another possible boon to lure bikers into the city is a bike share grant that Baton Rouge was recently awarded.
Environmental Protection Agency staff and national experts will come to Baton Rouge and explain how to start a bike share program, which often allows people to pay a small fee and pick up a bike at one hub and drop it off somewhere else. Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston and Denver are among the cities known for their popular bike share programs.
In Baton Rouge, Government Street is an example of where city leaders are trying to change the attitude that transportation must be vehicle-based. But the plans for the improvements have hit some speed bumps along the way.
Mayor-President Kip Holden announced the plans to revitalize the street in March 2014, saying construction would begin that year and finish by the end of 2015. The timetable has been pushed back because of requirements for using federal dollars to pay for the project.
Planners are now looking ahead to an environmental impact study, public feedback and federal government approval.
The slowdown has not stopped some of the excitement for the new businesses moving into the area. Anthony’s Italian Deli moved to Government Street in January. The restaurant, formerly located on Florida Boulevard, has continued to serve up muffulettas, meatball sandwiches and more in its new location.
“Mid City has welcomed us with open arms,” the restaurant’s owners wrote on its Facebook page.
Drive-through gourmet coffee shop Chicory Coffee and screen printing T-shirt company Graphic Prints also have announced plans for Government Street locations.
Advocate staff writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.