Content tagged “Transport”

IBM consultants begin work to address BR traffic woes

A team of IBM consultants will kick off a three-week study of Baton Rouge's transportation needs today as part of the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge. Baton Rouge was one of four U.S. cities selected earlier this year for the grant, valued at $500,000, which aims to help resolve a challenge unique to each city. Other cities chosen this year include Birmingham; Dallas; and Suffolk County, N.Y. Other issues IBM teams have consulted on in other communities include producing cleaner water, developing more jobs and improving public safety. "This will help us use our resources most efficiently, working with some of the best minds in the world," Mayor Kip Holden says in a press release highlighting a 10 a.m. press conference today to formally kick off the local effort. Over the next three weeks, IBM consultants will both gather data and conduct meetings with government officials, citizens,...

Feds provide more transportation funds to La. than most other states, report says

As Louisiana lawmakers continue to look for ways to raise new transportation dollars in an anti-tax environment to chip away at a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge repair and improvement work, a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says average U.S. state spending on transportation dropped by 20% between 2002 and 2011. That compares to a 4% drop in federal transportation spending over the same period. As Governing reports, the study shows how states are at least as much to blame for the drop in transportation spending over the last decade as the federal government. In Louisiana, the Pew report shows that between 2007 and 2011 the federal government provided about 30% of all surface transportation funding. That's higher...

Some council members ready to OK deal with BRAF on downtown parking garage

Going into Wednesday's Metro Council meeting, some council members still have questions about a deal the council has been asked to approve between the city-parish and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation over the downtown parking garage on Convention and Third streets. But other council members, who initially had concerns over the issue, say that after meeting with BRAF leaders recently they're satisfied the new agreement over the parking facility is in the city's best interest. "I'm going to vote for it,'' says Councilman Buddy Amoroso, who earlier this month raised concerns about the new cooperative endeavor agreement for the facility. "I think it's a good deal for the city. I'm not so sure it's a good deal for the state, but that's not what we're being asked to vote on." In July, BRAF signed a $2 million, 91-year lease with the state for the 466-space garage. But the city-parish is...

Council to consider changes to bus bench contracts

The Metro Council is scheduled to take up a measure Wednesday that could relieve the long-unresolved headaches of the three advertising companies that are unhappy with limits on their contracts to provide benches at bus stops around the city. The city-parish doesn't have to spend money on benches because companies don't charge anything for them. The companies even give the city-parish a cut of the money they make from ads placed on bench backrests. But the advertising companies can no longer put up benches on state roads, sites that would draw more revenue. The state Department of Transportation and Development took down some of the benches on state roads because they weren't properly credentialed with the city-parish, which had no codified way to approve them. Councilman Joel Boé is sponsoring the item to direct the city-parish to approve the state road benches. Boé says the council needs to "get back to the original mission as to why these agreements were approved," which was to...

La. GOP, Landrieu each release audits on senator's campaign flights

The director of the Louisiana Republican Party is accusing U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of charging nine commercial fights to her Senate account to collect campaign contributions at events around the state. As Gannett Louisiana reports, that's in addition to the four flights Landrieu already acknowledged, says Jason Doré of the state GOP office, adding that if Landrieu did what evidence gathered in a Republican National Senatorial Committee audit indicates, she could be guilty of violating federal election law. When a USA Today article first pointed out that Landrieu and several other members of Congress had charged campaign flights to their House and Senate travel accounts, Landrieu repaid the money from her campaign account, claiming it was an accounting error. She pledged an audit of her travel since she was elected to the Senate, and she released her audit this afternoon, a few hours after news of the GOP audit was released. Landrieu says her audit found a total of $33,727.02...

Mirabito: CATS' Touchdown Express for LSU games on a roll, could expand

The Capital Area Transit System's gameday service to and from the LSU campus, dubbed the Touchdown Express, is attracting more riders than it can logistically serve, says CATS CEO Bob Mirabito. Tickets for the available 1,000 seats were sold out for the first home game of the season against Sam Houston State last weekend. "We haven't even marketed it," Mirabito told a meeting of the Finance and Executive Committee on Thursday. "Most of it is word of mouth." Mirabito speculated that if the board invests in a targeted marketing campaign, it could triple or even quadruple Touchdown Express ridership. But first, Mirabito said, he needs to work with LSU to find a way for buses to make more than one trip from the stadium after the game. The university's post-game contraflow traffic plan limits options for the 20 Touchdown Express buses, each of which have 50 seats. Mirabito said he hopes to negotiate with LSU to open up one lane on Nicholson Drive for buses to be able to return to campus...

Uber works to meet gameday demand in BR, changes pickup plan

While the first home game of the LSU Tigers football season may have been a lackluster athletic contest, it was the biggest weekend in Baton Rouge yet for Uber, which began providing its UberX service here two months ago. It's not as though the transportation network company hadn't geared up for the expected increase in demand. The company sent out emails and social media announcements prior to the game last week, offering four suggested pickup locations near campus. Even so, drivers had a hard time keeping up with the calls. It's a good problem to have, says Tom Hayes, Uber's general manager in Louisiana. But it's still a problem that needs to be addressed. "We did hundreds of trips last weekend," says Hayes. "Now we're trying to take what we learned and make it better." To that end, Uber has changed its suggested pickup locations this Saturday from four to two: Aster Street near Gov. Claiborne Drive, and Nicholson Drive near Southgate Towers. Because Uber does not employ its...

CATS committee OK's moving forward with long-term contract for Mirabito

A Capital Area Transit System committee today approved negotiating a long-term contract with CATS CEO Bob Mirabito, following several closed-door meetings in recent weeks at which committee members reviewed his performance as head of the system. Donna Collins-Lewis, who sits on the CATS board as a Metro Council representative, will take charge of ironing out the details of the contract with Mirabito should the full CATS board also approve the committee recommendation at its meeting Tuesday. Last fall, the board approved a contract for Mirabito that runs through the end of this year. He was first hired on an interim basis in May of last year, at a time when several board changes and the resignation of former CEO Brian Marshall had left the transit system on shaky ground. A report Mirabito gave to the Finance and Executive Committee this afternoon included numbers that could...

Task force looks for ideas to generate road money

Lawmakers have launched their latest effort today to try to chip away at a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge repair and improvement work across Louisiana, seeking ideas to raise new transportation dollars in an anti-tax environment. An eight-member task force created by the Legislature opened its work by hearing about the current state transportation budget, along with details of financing mechanisms used by other states to upgrade infrastructure. The panel includes lawmakers, Louisiana's transportation secretary, and construction and engineering industry representatives. The panel expressed concern that failed infrastructure could hurt the state's growing economy. "All the money in the world isn't going to solve our problems if we don't maintain our highways," Lafayette area lawmaker Rep. Terry Landry said. The panel agreed that problems couldn't be solved with one meeting. But, despite that similar efforts haven't accomplished much in the past, Sen. Robert Adley, the...

BR gets $1.8M federal grant to begin planning Nicholson corridor streetcar

A federal grant program will contribute $1.8 million to Baton Rouge for the planning and design phase of a 3-mile streetcar line on Nicholson Drive that would connect the LSU campus with downtown. The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program—coincidentally abbreviated as the TIGER program, but with no affiliation to LSU—doled out $600 million in grants nationwide. Engineer Mike Bruce, with whom the city often consults on transportation issues, tells Daily Report this afternoon he doesn't yet have a timeline on the streetcar project, but hopes the grant will speed up the process. "There are no guarantees, but that's the hope," Bruce says. When Baton Rouge applied for the grant earlier this year, Bruce told Daily Report the TIGER grant program is highly competitive, with only about 5% of applying projects receiving funding. In the...

LSU traffic engineer to discuss traffic flow

Traffic in Baton Rouge can't be fixed, at least not in a way that will make every driver happy, says Brian Wolshon, an engineer who studies traffic at LSU. Wolshon says engineers make decisions that will benefit the entire system, but those choices often require inconveniencing some drivers for the sake of the majority. For example, though the stoplights on interstate on-ramps at Airline Highway and Essen Lane momentarily slow drivers getting onto the interstate, they aim to keep traffic moving on the interstate. It's better to "have a few people inconvenienced for a few seconds, rather than hundreds of people," Wolshon says. Wolshon will lead a discussion on area traffic problems and the give and take of traffic flow tonight at Chelsea's Café, 2857 Perkins Road, as part of the LSU Science Café lecture series. Doors open at 5 p.m., with the talk to begin at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. "I think a lot of times people think traffic engineers are idiots, but there...

Drones to fly over downtown BR Thursday for parking study

If you see something strange flying over downtown Baton Rouge later this week, don't panic. Two drones will be buzzing overhead Thursday doing field research for the update of a downtown parking feasibility study. The unmanned aerial vehicles will be deployed several times during the day for two-hour periods to assess parking patterns on downtown streets and in surface lots. "Using drone technology as opposed to having people walk around on the ground and count the cars is a way to bring efficiency to the project," says Bob Schmidt, Louisiana transportation manager for AECOM, the engineering firm conducting the study. "It won't be a whole Air Force full of drones. One or two can cover a lot of ground, as you might imagine." The drones will capture aerial photographs that engineers will then use to determine where parking is available, where it's most needed and how levels of need vary depending on time of day. "We think it's pretty cool," says Davis Rhorer, executive director of the...

Transportation officials studying traffic solutions

The state has conducted studies aimed at relieving traffic near the Interstate 10 and Interstate 110 split, said Department of Transportation and Development Assistant Secretary Dennis Decker at a Leaders with Vision forum on Thursday. Studies have looked into the effect of removing the Washington Street on-ramp, just before the split on I-10 west. The department also investigated the safety of the Government Street on-ramp to I-10 east. There, drivers enter the interstate on I-110 as it merges into traffic coming from the Mississippi River bridge. Decker said neither study prompted any changes, that removing the Washington Street ramp would not have much effect and that the Government Street ramp didn't lead to many accidents after all. Because the interstates are federal roads, any changes would have to be approved by the feds, who may have bigger concerns with I-110, Decker said.

Rolling pipelines

The impending industrial boom will bring billions of dollars in investments and greater job opportunities to Louisiana. But with three of the nation's top 10 refineries and a sizable petrochemical presence calling this state home, the Capital Region will experience a significant rise in something else: hazardous material shipments by rail.

Mastering the master plans

Several firms are in the midst of redesigning areas of the city in ways that are a long time coming.

Uber eyes Baton Rouge Metro Airport for expanded operations

Uber, the transportation network company that began offering ride-sharing services in Baton Rouge in July, has filed paperwork with the Baton Rouge Metro Airport so that it can operate there. Airport spokesman Jim Caldwell says the San Francisco-based company has begun discussions with airport officials about how to classify UberX vehicles, which are neither taxi cabs nor limousines but provide rides to passengers for a fee. "It's all still being discussed ,and we haven't reached an agreement yet," Caldwell says. As a practical matter, that would mean UberX drivers are not technically authorized to drop off or pick up passengers at the airport. However, since those drivers use their private vehicles, it's difficult to regulate them. Caldwell can't say whether UberX drivers have been servicing airport passengers or not, and an Uber spokeswoman was unavailable for comment this morning. But Caldwell says airport officials continue to look at ways of drafting an ordinance that address...

Transformation of two one-way streets to two-way expected to improve downtown traffic

Two key downtown thoroughfares are getting a makeover that will transform them from one-way to two-way streets, a move that is expected to improve traffic flow downtown and make it easier to access the River Center Parking Garage. The streets are St. Ferdinand Street—which is one-way heading south and becomes Highland Road south of Interstate 10—and St. Louis Street, which is one-way heading north and becomes Nicholson Drive south of Interstate 10. Both streets will be restriped and redesigned with new traffic signals to accommodate two-way traffic. "This is implementing part of Plan Baton Rouge II," says DPW Interim Director Bryan Harmon. "It provides a little better circulation and access to facilities so you can have people coming in two different ways." For Downtown Development District Director Davis Rhorer, the changes, when completed later this fall, will be a boon for downtown. "It will remove the flow of St. Ferdinand northbound traffic into our residential areas...

'Business Report': Baton Rouge joins a global evolution in ground transportation

Baton Rouge is not typically quick to embrace change or newfangled trends. But earlier this summer, the Capital City collectively pounced on a stray suggestion in a media report that the transportation networking company Uber was considering coming to town. As Business Report editor Stephanie Riegel details in the magazine's new cover story, the swift and enthusiastic response to the mere possibility of this new way of getting around was noteworthy, even by Uber's own self-exalting standards. "That Uber was so sought after here before it even delivered so much as a single ride to a Baton Rouge passenger says as much about the state of local transit options in this sprawling, gridlocked city as it does about the ridesharing app," Riegel writes. "Now that it is here, though, will Uber do as well as initial enthusiasm suggests?" As much as Baton Rouge and Uber are feeling the love, the taxi industry is not, and the company actually got off to a rocky start when it began operating...

Uber invasion

Baton Rouge is not typically quick to embrace change or newfangled trends. But earlier this summer, the Capital City collectively pounced on a stray suggestion in a media report that the transportation networking company Uber was considering coming to town.

Bad roads

The Capital Region's infrastructure long has been strained, and our transportation shortcomings only appear more critical with billions of dollars' worth of new investments likely on the way. With that in mind, we asked our state legislative delegation to tell us what they think are our most pressing infrastructure needs, addressing which would help with the expected manufacturing expansion. Generally speaking, these projects have not been funded; think of this more like, "In a perfect world, what would you like to see?"

The numbers game

Since 2008, Baton Rouge Area Foundation has been surveying residents about quality of life in the city, using the findings to put together an annual CityStats report.

BTR officials, Metro Council to work on airport ground transportation regulations

Officials with the Baton Rouge Metro Airport are planning to work with the Metro Council to draft an ordinance that would regulate the various forms of ground transportation at the airport. The move comes in the wake of Uber's entrance into the local market. The transportation networking company began offering its UberX ridesharing service here earlier this month, just weeks after the Metro Council passed an ordinance setting up a framework for which transportation networking companies can do business in Baton Rouge. The ordinance does not specifically cover operations at the airport, however, which has raised questions among airport officials such as: Where should ground transport vehicles park while waiting for passengers? How much should they have to pay for that space? And how should they advertise and promote their services on airport property? "We have taxicabs, limos, hotel shuttles, private companies that operate shuttles and a CATS bus, too," says Airport Director Anthony...

Donelon cautions prospective rideshare drivers to double-check insurance policies

Two weeks after Uber began offering its UberX ridesharing service in Baton Rouge, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon is urging potential drivers to carefully review their insurance policies before signing up with the company or other prospective ridesharing companies. "Drivers should review their policies and talk with their agents regarding their participation in such programs prior to signing up," Donelon says in a written statement issued today. "Virtually all personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage when personal vehicles are used to give rides for fees." Ridesharing companies like Uber contract with individual drivers who use their personal vehicles to transport passengers, and the companies do not provide blanket liability coverage to those drivers in the event of an accident. Donelon says potential drivers may want to contact their insurance companies and inquire about a commercial insurance policy. "Potential drivers should verify the type of liability coverage they...

High oil prices are bad for La. motorists, but good for the state

Motorists complain about rising prices at the pump as the price of oil rises, but to the state of Louisiana, the higher the price, the better. As The Shreveport Times reports, that's because Louisiana gets about $12 million a year extra every time the price of a barrel of oil climbs $1 and stays there. And with the price hovering around $104 a barrel, it's possible that Louisiana could receive more money than anticipated, says Greg Albrecht, one of the state economists that present forecasts used by the Revenue Estimating Conference. "It would have to be there for a few months before we would see the existing forecast change," Albrecht says. "Higher prices can't do anything but help" state finances. The current state forecast for the fiscal year is $96.69 a barrel. If the market price of oil averages out to $97.69 for the year, the state would reap another $12 million. The current projection is the state will receive $511.7 million in royalties, rentals, bonuses and mineral...

Uber oops

If you want to get attention in south Louisiana, associating your business with LSU football is a pretty good way to do it.

CATS hires consultant to look at alternative fuel options for bus fleet

The Capital Area Transit System is looking at the cost-effectiveness of adding alternative fuel buses to its fleet. At the regular meeting of the CATS board Tuesday, the board unanimously approved authorizing CEO Bob Mirabito to hire the University of New Orleans Transportation Institute to provide a report evaluating alternative fuel options and recommending the best solution for CATS. Mirabito says the contract is for $91,000. "We are still negotiating details and are trying to move up the date, but we would like to see an October timeframe for the report. We are going with an institution of higher learning because it has no predetermined notion—it is technology agnostic and unbiased," says Mirabito. Mirabito says he and the board have previously discussed the possibility of adding alternative fuel buses, but that it hadn't moved past the conversation stage until now. What prompted the movement? "We have around 45 buses that will need to be replaced over the next four years,...

Uber vows to continue operating in BR despite noncompliance issues

Uber plans to continue operating its UberX rideshare service in Baton Rouge even though the local Taxi Cab Control Board says it is not in compliance with city-parish regulations. "We look forward to working with city officials to finalize the registration process and getting all the paperwork out of the way," reads a prepared statement from Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett. Bennett described the next steps in the process as "crossing our 'T's and dotting our 'I's," adding the company is "excited to wrap up the paperwork and keep the people moving across their city." According to the Taxi Cab Control Board, the necessary paperwork hasn't even been created yet, and Uber has not contacted the board. Under ordinance amendments recently approved by the Metro Council, the taxi board would oversee "transportation network application companies" like Uber that allow users to summon freelance...

State lease of downtown parking garage draws criticism

Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is leasing the rights to a state-owned parking garage in Baton Rouge for $2 million to help balance Louisiana's budget, a deal that appears to have the state taking a loss for the cash up front. The Associated Press reports the 91-year lease will generate less money than the state paid for the garage, while also giving away possibly millions of dollars the state stood to receive in parking revenue over the life of the contract. The governor's Division of Administration says the 466-space parking garage was built for employees in a nearby state building at 150 N. Third St. that was recently sold, so it wasn't needed. Spokeswoman Meghan Parrish says the lease will pay "for the highest appraised value of the property, allowing us to meet financial obligations while maximizing the use of the space." The attorney general's office criticized the deal,...

Councilmen meet with Lyft, say ridesharing firm 'very interested' in BR market

Uber isn't the only ridesharing service that's eyeing the Baton Rouge market. Within days of the Metro Council's June 25 passage of an ordinance clearing the way for ridesharing companies to provide service in Baton Rouge, representatives from Lyft came to the city to meet with councilmen Ryan Heck and John Delgado. "They are very interested in the Baton Rouge market," says Delgado. "I don't know if they're as ready as Uber to come here, but the meeting last week went well." Uber, meanwhile, is continuing to evaluate the market and last week held two workshops for interested drivers. "It's our way of making sure the market is viable," says Taylor Bennett, an Uber spokesman. "It's our way of gauging interest and making sure folks there are willing to partner with us so when it comes time to launch we have enough drivers." Bennett could not say how many potential drivers showed up for...

BR taxis working to establish downtown staging areas to improve service

Local taxi cab companies are working with the city-parish and the Downtown Development District to create designated staging areas for taxis downtown, thereby enabling them to respond more quickly to the growing number of downtown patrons. The plan would set aside as many as 10 metered parking spaces for cabs at various intersections near Third Street, where most of downtown's restaurants and nightclubs are located. "There is a lot of demand for cabs downtown but there is no parking on Third Street," says Keith Wyckoff, manager of Yellow Cab. "This will enable us to have a set place so the customers know where we are and we know where they are going to be. It's just logistics." The staging areas would be in effect at night only. The effort comes as ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are eyeing the local market. Last week, the Metro Council approved an ordinance clearing the way...

Editor: Reaction to Uber interest highlights BR's desperation for improved transit options

When Daily Report first reported on the potential expansion of ride-sharing app maker Uber into the Baton Rouge market, the story touched a nerve with readers and generated a level of excitement that suggests our market is not only receptive to the idea of such a service—but is desperate for it, says Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel in her latest column. "'Please God let this happen,' posted one of our readers. Another replied, 'I agree. I would sell my soul to see this happen," writes Riegel. "Such musings would be funny if they weren't such a sad commentary on the state of the city's taxi service." In the weeks since the initial story, the Metro Council has approved ordinances welcoming companies like Uber to the market and establishing some...

Over objections, Metro Council clears way for ridesharing companies to enter BR market

The Metro Council extended a formal invitation to ridesharing companies such as Uber at its meeting Wednesday evening, despite local taxi company Yellow Cab's opposition and request that the invitation and accompanying ordinance amendments be deferred for further research. "Our pricing is set by this body. Our meters are inspected twice a year," Yellow Cab Manager Keith Wyckoff told the council. "The amendment as it is done eliminates all those protections for the public. The public deserves pricing protection." Metro Councilman Ryan Heck tells Daily Report this morning that while it has been widely perceived that the ordinance amendments will allow transportation service companies to operate with little to no regulation, the council's action does establish regulations for the companies. And while they'll be under a different classification from taxicab companies, the ridesharing companies will still be under the authority of the Taxicab Control Board. The council voted to...

Trending

Few topics have heated up Business Report's social media sites with the same intensity as our exclusive story this month in Daily Report that the San Francisco company offering Uber—a popular mobile app that connects passengers with vehicles for hire—is evaluating the Baton Rouge market and could begin providing its services here.

The Uber hullabaloo

Every once in a while, we publish a story that really resonates with readers.

'New York Times': With Uber, less reasons to own a car

Ride-sharing service Uber has the potential to decrease private car ownership, according to The New York Times, which suggests Uber's business model could well transform transportation the way Amazon altered shopping. In its long-established markets like San Francisco, Uber is already arguably cheaper than owning a private car. Competition among services such as Uber, Lyft and other rivals is likely to result in more areas of the country in which ride-sharing becomes both cheaper and more convenient than owning a car, the Times notes, a shift that could profoundly alter how people navigate American cities. Paradoxically, the increased use of ride-sharing services could also spawn renewed interest in public transportation, because people generally use taxis in conjunction with other forms of transportation. Read the full...

Delgado and Heck propose ordinance amendment to pave the way for Uber and similar companies

Metro councilmen John Delgado and Ryan Heck will introduce a proposal at today's council meeting to amend the city-parish code of ordinances to allow for new transportation companies like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and Carma to operate in Baton Rouge without having to abide by rules of the Taxicab Control Board. "The goal is to get companies like those to come into Baton Rouge by establishing a friendly legal environment for them to open up," Delgado says, adding that he's already spoken with representatives from Uber and another similar transportation companies interested in expanding into Baton Rouge. "This would both create new jobs and reduce the number of DUIs in Baton Rouge by providing people with an alternative method of transportation, all at zero cost to the taxpayers." Under the existing code of ordinances, such companies—referred to as "transportation network service companies"—must abide by the rules of the city-parish Taxicab Control Board, Delgado says. Similar...

Yellow Cab manager says Uber service would threaten cab companies, passenger safety

The manager of Yellow Cab, which operates about two-thirds of Baton Rouge's 150 taxis, is opposed to allowing the high-tech ride-sharing service Uber into the local market because of what he says is the unfair competitive advantage the company has in other cities where it operates. As first reported Wednesday by Daily Report, Uber is evaluating the Baton Rouge market and could eventually begin offering service here. While that potential development was welcomed as good news by those who are frustrated by Baton Rouge's lack of transit options, Yellow Cab's Keith Wyckoff sees it as a potential threat—not only to his business but also to the safety of those who might use Uber. “They don't abide by any sort of public protection,” Wyckoff says. “They paint a very rosy picture, but they have no regard for rules and regulations.” Uber has been...

Maker of Uber app gauging interest in BR for possible service expansion

The company that makes Uber, a popular mobile app that connects passengers with vehicles for hire in 70, mostly urban, cities, is evaluating the Baton Rouge market and confirms to Daily Report that it could begin offering its services here. The San Francisco-based company recently added Baton Rouge to a list of hundreds of global cities on a website page that solicits drivers for hire. While that in no way means the company is coming here—after all, the list also includes New Orleans, where city officials and taxi cab representatives pushed back against the mere idea of the company offering services—an Uber spokeswoman confirms the market is under consideration. "We often test postings to measure the viability of Uber in different markets," says Kaitlin Durkosh, a spokesperson for Uber. "We are excited about the potential opportunity to connect...

Former CATS CEO a finalist to lead southeast Mich. transit authority

Former CATS CEO Brian Marshall, who resigned as head of the local bus system in April 2013, is one of the three finalists to lead the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. The authority's board will vote on its new director today. Should Marshall—who is now working as a transit consultant, according to a report by The Detroit News—be selected for the position, he will find himself in familiar territory. As was the situation at CATS, the RTA of Southeast Michigan—a relatively new agency that oversees transit in four counties—is underfunded, and its next CEO will have to convince voters to approve a dedicated millage in 2016. Marshall was at the helm at CATS when Baton Rouge and Baker voters approved a 10-year, 10.6-mill...

CATS launches customer satisfaction initiative

A little more than seven months after CATS suspended its use of technology that was meant to allow riders to track bus locations in real time—but that never fully lived up to its promise—CATS announced today that it has improved and reintroduced CATS Trax, which riders can now use to track buses and get route information by downloading the RouteShout mobile app or visiting the RouteShout website. According to a press release, CATS is also launching a customer service initiative in which it will conduct customer satisfaction surveys and report results on a quarterly basis. The results of the first survey will be reported at the CATS board of commissioners meeting today, the release says, noting the results will be directly tied to incentive pay for CATS staff members. Both initiatives are aimed at improving rider experience, CATS says. "The recent expansion of our service...

Speed cameras to be banned on La. interstates

Gov. Bobby Jindal has agreed to ban speed cameras and other automated speed enforcement devices on Louisiana's interstates. The Associated Press reports Sulphur Rep. Mike Danahay, a Democrat, sponsored the prohibition bill—House Bill 896—saying it was in response to a private company approaching municipalities to introduce speed cameras on interstate highways. The method uses a hand-held device to record speeds, with violators sent tickets through the mail. At least one town in southwest Louisiana, the town of Welsh, had announced plans for such a program. Critics of the programs say they don't give people due process rights and seem to prioritize generating income over public safety. Jindal signed the prohibition bill into law late last week. It takes effect Jan. 1.

BR seeking $2 million in federal funding for streetcar along Nicholson

The city of Baton Rouge has submitted its application with the U.S. Department of Transportation for nearly $2 million in TIGER grant funds that, if awarded, will be used to begin planning for a 3-mile streetcar line along Nicholson Drive between LSU and downtown. The deadline for the application was Monday, and city officials should know within 60 days whether Baton Rouge will receive any funds from TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, which is an Obama administration stimulus program that will award $600 million this year. Though hopeful, they are not counting on it. "It's all very, very competitive," says engineer Mike Bruce, who is serving as a transit consultant for the city. "Less than 5% of applications receive money … but we're hopeful because this is a very strong application." Creating a streetcar line along the Nicholson corridor is part of the city's new master plan, FuturEBR, and FuturEBR consultant John Fregonese helped draft...

Louisiana ranked 14th in number of structurally deficient bridges

Louisiana has the 14th highest number of structurally deficient bridges among the states, according to an analysis of the 2013 National Bridge Inventory database recently released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. At 1,827 structurally deficient bridges out of 13,050 total bridges, Louisiana is also one of 19 states with a bridge deficiency rate over 12%. At 23% of structurally compromised bridges, Pennsylvania was listed as the state with the highest percentage of deficient bridges, while Texas, at 2%, had the lowest percentage. Approximately 14% of Louisiana's bridges are considered structurally deficient. Cars, trucks and school buses cross the nation's more than 63,000 structurally compromised bridges 250 million times every day, according to an American Road & Transportation Builders Association press release. The most heavily traveled bridges are on the Interstate system. Bridge decks and support structures are regularly inspected by state transportation departments for...

CATS, DDD working out solutions to downtown bus congestion

CATS will temporarily move its new downtown hub at North Boulevard Town Square to the nearby riverfront on days when the Town Square is closed or in use for events—a short-term solution designed to mitigate congestion that has been developing around Town Square since CATS implemented its new route and hub system a month ago. CATS CEO Bob Mirabito and DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer met earlier today to discuss possible solutions. Both say relocating the hub to the riverfront on days when Town Square is closed for events makes sense. "Town Square can accommodate two buses," says Rhorer. "On the riverfront you can accommodate five." The buses will have to share space with tour buses at the site, which is located by a kiosk the DDD is sprucing up with new signs and maps, but Rhorer says that should not be a problem. On days when Town Square is in use as a hub, CATS is hoping to lessen congestion by staging the business in front of the Old State Capitol on North Boulevard and...

GM recall 'not a big deal' for Gerry Lane dealerships, president says

The recent General Motors recall of millions of Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars has had little negative impact so far on Gerry Lane Enterprises, said Eric Lane, president of the company. "It's been a big deal [nationwide], but not a big deal for us," said Lane, who was guest speaker at the Baton Rouge Press Club's weekly meeting today. While the dealership has only received two complaints, Lane said, "We have about 60 to 70 cars right now that have been checked out in the shop," though he doesn't have further details about the status of the vehicles at this time. "We're addressing that as we speak," he said, adding that he's been satisfied with the way GM has handled the recall. Prompted by an ignition defect that is now linked to 13 deaths nationwide, GM began the recall in February. Documents show that GM knew about the defect as early as 2004, The New...

Tackling sprawl

A recent study that awards Baton Rouge the dubious distinction of having the worst sprawl of all mid-sized cities in America (and the fifth worst sprawl of all cities, including the big ones) didn't seem to raise many eyebrows around here. But then, anyone who lives here already knows we have a serious problem with sprawl.

CATS pushing forward with plans for bus rapid transit along Nicholson

After meeting earlier this week with city officials and planning experts, CATS CEO Bob Mirabito is moving forward with plans to explore the possibility of developing bus rapid transit service along the Nicholson corridor, which could eventually be converted into a 3-mile streetcar connecting LSU with downtown. Mirabito met Wednesday with the city's transit consultant, Mike Bruce; planning guru John Fregonese, who is helping the city implement its master land-use plan; and members of the Capital Region Planning Commission. He says they were all supportive of the BRT concept. BRT is an enhanced bus system that operates on bus lanes or other transitways in order to combine the flexibility of buses with the efficiency of rail. "Our next step is to ask the Federal Transit Authority to allow us to do an alternatives analysis for the Nicholson corridor," Mirabito says. "That will enable us to evaluate all the transit options for that particular corridor, come up with a local preferred...

TSA opens BR precheck program application center

The Baton Rouge Metro Airport won't have a dedicated Transportation Security Administration precheck lane for travelers who are accepted into the TSA's precheck program, which is designed to help people move more quickly through airport security lines. However, those who are approved for the program will be able to move through BTR security lines without removing their shoes and light jackets, TSA says in a press release announcing the opening of a local application office for the program. The office is located at 4305 Bluebonnet Blvd., within the Parc at Claycut Bayou. The TSA launched the program in October 2011 and has been expanding it ever since. The program cost is $85, and membership is good for five years. U.S. citizens and some permanent residents are eligible for the program, which requires people to go through a pre-enrollment process online prior to applying in person at the local application office. The TSA has

La. top state for domestic maritime industry, report says

A new report shows Louisiana leading all states for domestic maritime employment, with one in every 83 jobs in the state being connected to the industry—nearly twice that of any other state. The report, commissioned by the Transportation Institute and developed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, says just shy of 55,000 people are working in the maritime industry in Louisiana. Maritime employment covers the wide spectrum of jobs associated with onshore and offshore commerce, including operators, pilots, deckhands, engineers and office personnel. Annual labor income related to the domestic maritime industry exceeds $3.45 billion in the state, the report says. The state's navigable waterway network of roughly 2,800 miles is second to only that of Alaska, and Louisiana handles more waterborne commerce on it than any other state, moving more than 500 million tons of domestic and foreign cargo annually. Louisiana is the only state to record more than $10 billion in total gross economic...

La. ranked as having nation's worst drivers … again

Auto insurance website CarInsuranceComparison.com says its latest analysis of federal driving data suggests—once again—that Louisiana is home to the nation's worst drivers. This marks the fourth straight year that Louisiana has topped the website's list, according to the site. For its annual worst drivers rankings, the website compiles data on fatality rates per 100 million miles traveled, citations for failure to obey traffic signals and seat belt laws, DUI infractions, and tickets for speeding and careless driving. It collects data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Motorists Association and MADD. Louisiana was ranked in the top five in three different categories used by the website to compile its overall rankings: failure-to-obey violations, ticketing rate and careless driving. On this year's list, Louisiana is followed by South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama.

La. bridge inspections fall short of guidelines, audit says

A new audit says DOTD needs to improve its inspections of Louisiana's bridges. As The Associated Press reports, auditors say the department falls short of full compliance with federal guidelines about the inspection frequency and procedures that should be in place for making sure bridges are safe. The review of Louisiana's bridge inspection program was released this morning by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office. It notes that 14% of the state's bridges are deemed structurally deficient by federal standards. In a written response, DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas notes the state wasn't deemed noncompliant on any bridge inspection benchmarks, but rather fell short of full compliance. She says the department has federally approved plans to address all the areas where it is deemed to need improvement. Read a summary of the report, or

Editor: Latest BR to NOLA rail line study the most promising yet

For more than 25 years, civic leaders and elected officials in southeast Louisiana have been talking seriously about creating passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, notes Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel in her latest column. "A quarter of a century is a long time for something not to happen, especially if it's such a good idea. But then, there are all sorts of good ideas that would improve the quality of life in this so-called Super Region that we just don't seem ready to buy into yet," writes Riegel. The latest rail study, commissioned by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the metropolitan planning organizations of both cities, is more modest than a 2010 study for a high-speed rail line, both in its price tag and approach, says Riegel. The study says it would cost about $250 million or so to build the rail line and about $9 million a year to operate. "It sure sounds good on paper, and it's easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm for something that...

Officials eye federal grant funds for BR streetcar, rail transit projects

As civic leaders try to begin moving forward with two new transit initiatives—a streetcar along Nicholson Drive between LSU and downtown and passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—they're seeking planning grants from the same pot of federal money, which is potentially a problem. "We're trying to make sure we can pursue grant opportunities for both projects without harming the chances of one or the other," says Walter Monsour, president and CEO of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority. Plans for a 3-mile streetcar line along Nicholson were unveiled earlier this year by the city-parish and have been warmly received. Plans for an inter-city rail line were unveiled in March by BRAF and the Capital Region Planning Commission. Both projects...

Mirabito says CATS route expansion has 'opened up a lot of possibilities'

While CATS CEO Bob Mirabito could not provide any hard figures or estimates on bus ridership during the first three days of CATS’ new system rollout and route expansions, he told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge this afternoon that he is already seeing the benefits for the community. "What this expansion has done is, it's opened up a lot of possibilities," he said, pointing to a potential partnership between CATS and BREC to offer routes to the Baton Rouge Zoo and other parks in the area as well as the possibility of providing bus rapid transit service along the Nicholson Drive corridor—a consideration he shared with Daily Report last Friday. Mirabito said CATS' rollout Sunday marked a first for the transit world. "We are the first transit agency of this size to add 10 routes and change 19 in one day," he said. Still, the rollout is a work-in-progress. "We've made...

La. company developing aircraft tracking system

A Covington-based company says it's working toward federal approval of satellite GPS technology that would provide second-by-second tracking of aircraft anywhere in the world. The FAA's latest air traffic control technology—now used in Houston—employs only ground tracking stations. Globalstar CEO Jay Monroe tells The Associated Press the system developed by his company and Alaska-based ADS-B Technologies uses a smartphone-sized antenna on top of an aircraft to beam signals to Globalstar's 24-satellite network. On Tuesday, the Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation called for satellite-based tracking systems to become industry standard. Monroe says the companies hope to have FAA approval for the system in a year to 18 months. Real-time tracking surfaced as an issue after controllers lost track of Malaysian Airlines' Flight 370 bound for Beijing on March 8.

US gas prices hit six month high, expected to rise more

Across the U.S., motorists are paying more on average for gas this morning—$3.56 for a gallon of regular unleaded—than they have since September, according to AAA data. Prices have risen sharply in recent weeks due to declining supplies and rising costs for the ethanol added to the fuel—which AAA says will likely keep prices on the rise. "We expect that the peak for gasoline prices will be in April with the most likely outcome about $3.65," says Michael Green, a AAA spokesman. "It could go to $3.75 if refineries have problems coming out of spring maintenance." In Baton Rouge, motorists have thus far been a little more insulated from big increases at the pump. As of this morning, a gallon of regular unleaded is selling for an average of $3.31 in Baton Rouge, according to AAA. That represents a rise of roughly 5 cents over the past week. It's also about 15 cents more than gas was selling for six months ago—but 12 cents lower than the price one year ago.

The tire man

If you've seen Simple Simon's Car Care Center's low-budget, classically kitsch TV commercials over the years, you might assume Bill Simon is little more than your garden-variety huckster without much substance behind his admittedly endearing sizzle.

On the right track

For more than 25 years, civic leaders and elected officials in southeast Louisiana have been talking seriously about creating passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Capitol Views: Holden fights against red-light camera bills that nonetheless eke out of committee

Two bills about red-light cameras barely got out of a divided legislative committee today—one to limit the speed range for violations and another to add one second to the minimum time for yellow caution lights. Both bills by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, would only affect cameras operating at intersections of state highways. With strong opposition from Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, tie votes on both bills were broken by House Transportation Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, sending the measures to the House floor. HB 801 would prohibit red-light camera tickets from being issued for speeds less than 10 miles per hour over the posted limit on state highways. The limitation would not affect cameras on city streets or federal highways. Arnold, who battles with local officials over his anti-camera legislation each year, said, "Traffic cameras are not about policing. They are about fleecing." In opposition, Holden asked the committee, "Why don't we let local governments...

Complaints from B.R. motorists about bad gas continue; investigation ongoing

Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain says this morning that he is scheduled to meet with the ExxonMobil project manager this afternoon to discuss the ongoing investigation into bad gasoline that has been giving local motorists problems over the past week. The questionable gas has been traced to two batches, totaling 120,000 barrels, that were shipped between March 12 and 15 from Exxon's Baton Rouge terminal. Tests on the gasoline taken from a number of local gas stations will continue to be conducted by the agriculture department, he says. "We're not going to send out all the fuel samples at once until we have an idea what compound we're looking for," Strain says. Earlier tests done by the department Wednesday and Thursday ruled out bad water, ethanol, sulphur and vapor pressure as causes. Strain says his office received five more complaints from affected motorists this morning, bringing the total number of complaints to 34. "But I think those are...

CATS considering bus rapid transit between LSU, downtown

As CATS prepares for Sunday's rollout of its new bus route system—which includes 20 route changes, 10 new routes and 5 new hubs—CEO Bob Mirabito is looking ahead to what could be one of the transit agency's next initiatives: providing bus rapid transit service along the Nicholson Drive corridor between LSU and downtown. "We have had discussions with a number of folks and have suggested to the mayor's office that we might want to look at bus rapid transit as an interim solution to servicing Nicholson," Mirabito says. BRT is an enhanced bus system that operates on bus lanes or other transitways in order to combine the flexibility of buses with the efficiency of rail. By doing so, BRT operates at faster speeds and provides greater service reliability and increased customer convenience. "You could use that particular form of transportation to build amenities along Nicholson that would not only support bus rapid transit but streetcar," Mirabito says. He estimates a BRT system...

CATS to receive $950K today that had been held in escrow over tax lawsuit

CATS CEO Bob Mirabito is headed to the transit system's attorney's office this afternoon to pick up a check for $950,000—dedicated tax money for CATS that has been sitting in an escrow account but was freed up earlier this month when the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear a 2012 case challenging the constitutionality of the 10.6-mill CATS property tax. "It is a windfall," says Mirabito, who adds he had not previously budgeted the tax revenue. "We don't know yet what we are going to do with it but we have lots of needs." Local business executive Milton Graugnard filed the suit against the bus system shortly after the tax was approved by voters in a specially created voting district in April 2012. His suit argued that the tax is unconstitutional because only voters residing within the city limits of Baton Rouge and Baker were able to vote on it—even though CATS service is not limited to the Baton Rouge and Baker municipal areas. While the suit made its way through the...

ExxonMobil Baton Rouge terminal remains closed for investigation of bad batches of fuel

The ExxonMobil Baton Rouge terminal remains closed this afternoon as officials home in on two bad batches of fuel, says Todd Spitler, downstream media advisor for ExxonMobil Public and Government Affairs. "At this time, we believe the issue is limited to two batches of fuel that were shipped in mid-March," says Spitler, adding that Exxon "cannot speculate on the duration of the closure as we continue to work closely with local officials to investigate the matter." As Daily Report first reported, Exxon began investigating the issue with unleaded regular gasoline purchased at local retail stations Wednesday afternoon. While Exxon could not provide any additional details as to what might have caused the two mid-March batches to sour, additional testing done by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has ruled out bad sulphur or vapor pressure as causes. While...

ExxonMobil investigating reports of bad gas being sold in B.R.

In response to numerous reports of bad gasoline being sold at various gas stations in Baton Rouge, an ExxonMobil spokesperson says the company has begun an investigation of its Baton Rouge terminal. “We have been made aware of this issue with gasoline purchased at select stations in Baton Rouge. When we learned about it we immediately began an investigation,” says Stephanie Cargile, ExxonMobil public and government affairs manager for the Baton Rouge area. “In doing so we have shut down our Baton Rouge terminal while the investigation continues.” Responding to complaints from Baton Rouge motorists that have been phoned in over the past three days, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has tested several stations for bad gas and continues to test others, says department spokesperson Veronica Mosgrove. As of this afternoon, Mosgrove says the test results from at least three local stations have not uncovered any problems regarding water or ethanol...

'Business Report': BTR aims for 700 acres of additional development with Aviation Business Park

So you're a developer in the market for land. What if someone told you that you could get a 99-year lease starting at 14 cents per square foot, with infrastructure already in place, security included, no property taxes and access to all sorts of valuable incentives? Is that something you might be interested in? Anthony Marino, aviation director of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, hopes so. As Business Report details in a report from the current issue, the airport's Aviation Business Park already has 57 lease agreements and hosts Coca-Cola Bottling Co., All Star Automotive Group and the Indie Stages film studio. But that still leaves 53 acres for sale and 659 acres for lease, and Marino is doing what he can to get the word out. Addressing a Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors luncheon in February, he said recent legislative tweaks make airport property more attractive. "Not for us to develop," Marino added. "For developers to develop." In an interview with...

News alert: Holden announces Government Street redesign

Mayor-President Melvin "Kip" Holden announced today the Government Street redesign project will be underway immediately, with an engineer selected within 90 days and construction starting by the end of 2014 or early 2015 and completed by the end of 2015. The redesign, part of FuturEBR, the city-parish's master plan, will convert the four-lane stretch between Interstate 110 and Lobdell Avenue to three lanes with a continuous two-way left-turn lane and a dedicated bicycle lane. The project was made possible by an agreement recently completed with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and approved by the Metro Council to transfer three major roadways, including Government Street, from the state to the city-parish. Read the full story in Daily Report PM. —Rachel Alexander
Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original publication.

Study: Rail service between B.R. and N.O. could be developed for $260 million

An intercity passenger train between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that travels on existing freight rails at an average speed of 55 miles per hour could be developed for $260 million—far less than $450 million price tag of a high-speed rail line that was proposed for the corridor several years ago. As envisioned in a study released today by BRAF to the Capital Region Planning Commission, the 240-seat passenger train would operate twice-daily round trips between downtown Baton Rouge and the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, with five stops along the way: suburban Baton Rouge, Gonzales, LaPlace, Louis Armstrong International Airport and Jefferson Parish. One-way trips would take about 90 minutes and would cost $10 per ticket. The proposal—outlined in a study prepared by HNTB for the Capital Region Planning Commission, BRAF and the Regional Planning Commission in New Orleans—is a far more realistic approach to developing and running rail service between the two...

10 Questions: Jim Brandt

Few people know more about Louisiana government than Jim Brandt. Though he didn't grow up in the Bayou State—the North Dakota native came to Louisiana in 1969 to attend graduate school at Tulane University—Brandt held numerous positions in New Orleans city government in the administrations of Moon Landrieu and Dutch Morial, before taking over as head of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a watchdog agency in New Orleans. In 1999 he relocated to Baton Rouge, when he became president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, where he served for more than a decade. He retired in 2010, but continued to work part- time as a consultant. Since leaving PAR, Brandt has been able to devote more of his considerable energies to community service, most recently accepting a nomination to serve on the CATS board of directors.

Selling the airport

So you're a developer in the market for land. What if someone told you that you could get a 99-year lease starting at 14 cents per square foot, with infrastructure already in place, security included, no property taxes, and access to all sorts of valuable incentives? Is that something you might be interested in?

Metro Council to consider leasing airport space for BRCC helicopter pilot program

The Metro Council will today consider authorizing Louisiana Aircraft to sublease a hangar and additional ramp and office space at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport to Guidance Aviation—which operates Baton Rouge Community College's helicopter pilot operations program. Though the training program has existed for less than a year, it has grown from 19 students and three helicopters to 33 students and four helicopters, with a fifth helicopter arriving later this month, says Chris Horton, Guidance Aviation's manager of flight operations in Baton Rouge. Horton attributes increasing demand for the program to the need for helicopter pilots across a wide range of industries, such as emergency medical service, offshore oil rigs, law enforcement, tourism and news gathering. Although the growing popularity of the program—in which students earn an associate of applied science degree in six semesters—is apparent, Horton says Guidance Aviation still has details to sort out...

Publisher: Getting a good lesson on bad customer service at 30,000 feet

In his latest column, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister wonders when it was exactly that flying got to be so unpleasant and frustrating. "And when did the airlines give up on customer service?" McCollister asks. "When was the last time your flight was cancelled or delayed? And did you hear one word of apology or detect even a hint of empathy from the airlines? If your experience has been anything like mine, the attitude of the airlines would be a lesson in how not to provide customer service." While some inconveniences have long been a part of airline travel, McCollister says it appears they are now the norm and no longer the exception. "We almost expect something to go wrong when we travel. And I am not talking about bad weather or an act of God, over which the airlines exercise no control," McCollister writes. "Sadly, bad service has almost become expected by travelers. Maybe just 'make lemonade out of lemons' and consider your next trip as a seminar on how not to...

Economic recovery expected to boost American air travel to highest level in six years

U.S. airlines are expected to carry more passengers this spring than they have in six years and more international fliers during that season than ever before, according to a forecast released today by the industry's trade group. As USA Today reports, Airlines for America—which represents most of the major carriers in the U.S.—projects that roughly 129.5 million fliers will be on board U.S. carriers in March and April. That's the largest number since 133.7 million travelers took to the air during those months in 2008 and a 1% bump over the 128.2 million who flew last spring. A growing chunk of those fliers will be traveling to and from the United States, with a record-setting 17.1 million passengers flying internationally. "We attribute the increase in spring air travel to rising U.S. household net worth, an improving economy, and the affordability of air travel, which remains one of the best bargains for consumers," John Heimlich, the trade group's vice president...

B.R. ranked as having nation's 34th most congested roadways

The seventh annual Traffic Scorecard Report released today by Washington-based traffic information and driver services firm INRIX confirms what most in the Capital Region already know: Baton Rouge is home to some of the more congested roadways in America. The Traffic Scorecard Report ranks Baton Rouge No. 34 among all U.S. metro areas for most roadway congestion, and the city ranks No. 116 when all metros in North America and Europe are collectively ranked. As USA Today reports, 61 of the nation's largest 100 cities saw traffic congestion increase over the past year, a significant change from 2012, when only six cities saw increases. The increasing congestion is a reflection of the strengthening U.S. economy at large, says INRIX, adding: “If economic growth continues in 2014 as economists...

Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport Rotunda

Owner East Baton Rouge Parish
Architect WHLC Architecture
Contractor J. Reed Constructors
Cost It's the first part of a four-phase, $9 million enhancement
Year completed 2013

How not to treat a customer

OK, we all agree there is no faster way to get across the country or overseas than flying. Trips that once took days or weeks can be made in hours. But man, oh man, when did it get to be so unpleasant and frustrating? And when did the airlines give up on customer service?

Audit: CATS may have broken law by improperly paying employees, not safeguarding fares

The findings of a Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office investigation of the Capital Area Transit System—conducted at the urging of CATS CEO Bob Mirabito after he was hired on an interim basis last summer—says the bus system may have violated state law in 2013 by paying CATS employees approximately $35,459 for hours they didn't work and leave time they didn't earn. On top of that, the audit says CATS may have also broken state law by failing to safeguard public funds. Bus fares totaling $79,496 were not deposited in the bank between Jan. 1, 2012, and June 30 of last year. Over that span, CATS buses collected $1,944,154 of cash fares, while just $1,864,658 was deposited in the bank. During the time span when the fares were not deposited, the audit says bus passes valued at $78,648 were used "with no corresponding revenue being collected and/or deposited in the bank"—also a possible violation of state law. In a press release issued this morning, CATS says the audits'...

BTR to improve main runway, get new landing instruments

The Baton Rouge Metro Airport is getting ready for two runway enhancement projects that will help position the airport for future growth. One project, which will cost an estimated $2.8 million, will effectively lengthen the main runway about 1,000 feet by adding a new threshold on the front end and a new overrun on the back end. The other project, which will cost about $4.6 million, will involve the installation of a new instrument landing system that will make navigation easier for pilots in certain types of adverse weather conditions. Passengers will likely not notice much change, but airport spokesman Jim Caldwell says both enhancements are overdue and will help make the airport more attractive to potential carriers. "You want to continue to improve your facilities in anticipation of future growth," he says. Last May, Elite Airways, a charter airline based in Melbourne, Fla., announced it was planning to begin nonstop passenger service between Baton Rouge and several cities by...

CATS board to consider lease for office, parking space at Mid City Tower

The CATS board this evening will consider granting the transit system authority to lease 5,442 square feet of office space and enough parking space for 20 buses at Mid City Tower, formerly known as the Dean Tower. The proposed initial lease of the space—located at 5700 Florida Blvd., near Baton Rouge Community College—is two years, with a lease renewal option for one year thereafter. It would cost CATS $85,000 the first year and $91,500 the second year, according to details provided at the CATS Finance and Executive Committee meeting last week. The office space, which comprises the first floor of Mid City Tower, would be used for CATS administrative offices, says CATS public relations manager Abby Hannie. "It seems like we outgrew the current space about two years ago," she says of CATS' main terminal and offices at 2250 Florida Blvd. "We're kind of on top of each other...

AutoZone to open 18th Capital Region store on Airline

Memphis-based auto parts chain AutoZone has announced plans to open its 18th Baton Rouge area store at 8268 Airline Highway, between South Choctaw Drive and Florida Boulevard, across from Home Depot. "There was a significant void there for us," says Richard Gaddie, AutoZone regional manager of customer satisfaction. "We try to make sure that wherever the demographics are … we can get more of a share of customers in that area." AutoZone just wrapped up the permitting process for the new store, Gaddie says, meaning they should have the approximately 16,000-square-foot store up and running by mid-summer. Gaddie says AutoZone—which has more than 5,000 stores in the U.S. and Mexico—opens between 100 and 150 new stores a year, and the company determines locations by analyzing population shifts and vehicle counts. The new store will employ approximately 10 to 12 workers, Gaddie says. "We're always seeking opportunities to enter into areas where we can better serve our...

Public transit on the brain

Momentum keeps building for two long-term projects for a commuter rail and a streetcar line that could be a huge boon for Baton Rouge and the super region.

Feasibility study on rail line from B.R. to N.O. expected in coming weeks

BRAF is expected to release in the next two weeks the results of a study on the feasibility of developing a passenger rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In a report this morning to the FuturEBR Implementation Team, or FIT, BRAF Executive Vice President John Spain said BRAF has partnered with the Regional Planning Commission in New Orleans and other groups on the study, adding that the passenger rail line—long the dream of urban planners in both cities—could utilize the former Entergy Building on Government Street as a passenger terminal. The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority acquired the property earlier this year. "It is going to be a very, very fun and interesting 2014," Spain told members of FIT, who received updates this morning on a variety of projects planned for the Baton Rouge downtown and Mid City areas. Another proposed project discussed was the Nicholson Drive streetcar. Portland, Ore.-based planner John Fregonese, who was commissioned to...

Holden seeking federal money for streetcar connecting LSU, downtown

As plans for the development of a streetcar along Nicholson Drive continue to move forward, Mayor Kip Holden is working on potential sources of federal funding for the project, which is part of the FuturEBR Master Plan. Holden tells Daily Report he and seven other U.S. mayors met late last month with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to discuss the availability of federal funds to help offset the cost of the 3.5-mile streetcar line, which some have estimated could be $60 million or more. "HUD has some money and [the U.S. Department of] Transportation has some money," Holden says. "But those pots are shrinking fast, so yesterday we started writing down our priorities … we're working to push this forward quickly." The city-parish will also request HUD funds to help develop more housing for veterans, but Holden says most of his wish list will focus on the development of the streetcar line, which, as envisioned, will link the LSU campus to downtown.

En route

Plans to develop a streetcar line along Nicholson Drive are taking shape, according to Portland, Ore.-based consultant John Fregonese, who is helping the city-parish implement its new master plan, FuturEBR.

Plans for streetcar connecting LSU and downtown B.R. on track

Plans to develop a streetcar along Nicholson Drive are beginning to take shape, according to Portland, Ore.-based consultant John Fregonese, who is helping the city-parish implement its new master plan, FuturEBR. Fregonese says he is working on a conceptual plan for a three-mile streetcar line that would run along Nicholson Drive from LSU to North Boulevard Town Square downtown, connecting, along the way, new planned developments for the area including the 34.8-acre River District, and the Water Campus, a research park devoted to coastal studies. "There is an amazing set of opportunities that present themselves right there," says Fregonese, adding that a second phase of the project would extend from Town Square to the State Capitol. "You have LSU, the River District, Water Campus, River Center,...

Baton Rouge, New Orleans airports experience high cancellation rates

Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport spokesman Ralph Hennessy told Daily Report that the airport is open today but airlines serving the facility have no scheduled flights in or out of Baton Rouge. "They are planning on operating later this afternoon and early this evening, but that is predicated on this mess moving out of the area," Hennessy said. The airport hosts 40 to 44 flights in and out of Baton Rouge a day. A check of arrivals and departures at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport showed almost all flights in and out cancelled for today. The exception were a handful of flights arriving from or departing to western destinations such as Dallas and Denver. The picture was much the same throughout the South. The Associated Press reports that nearly 3,000 flights within, into or out of the U.S. had been cancelled by 9 a.m. Tuesday, including more than 860 flights with Atlanta connections. Delta, in particular, has cancelled a large share—more than 1,850...

Committee reviewing CATS board candidates could be template for other boards, Amoroso says

The Metro Council will receive a report from the CATS Qualifications Review Committee at this week's meeting and discuss the merits and improvement areas for the CATS board selection process—a process that Councilman Buddy Amoroso says he hopes to replicate for other city-parish boards. "One of my goals is that we would try to use what we have learned with CATS and expand it into these other important boards," says Amoroso, who in August proposed the creation of the committee to improve the selection process of the CATS board, which at that time was under heavy criticism. "I think it is our judiciary responsibility to the citizens of Baton Rouge to have a mechanism in place [to ensure] that we are getting the very best people on these boards." Although Amoroso says there have not been problems with the library board, he points to it as one example of a board that could...

New era for CATS

It has been nearly a year since all hell broke loose at CATS, and, by all accounts, the city's transit agency is better off today.

CATS hopes to bring suspended GPS technology back

Nearly one year after CATS rolled out a new GPS tracker app designed to let riders know where buses are located and what expected wait-times will be, CEO Bob Mirabito says the agency is retooling the system and making much-needed improvements. "CATS spent $1.5 million on the system and the public sees a mobile app that is worth about $50,000," he says. "It wasn't working like it should have, which had to do with the fact that we didn't have a solid database." Mirabito temporarily turned off the system in October because it wasn't working properly. Since then, technicians have been trying to address problems that stemmed from the fact that inaccurate or incomplete data was initially loaded into the system. "The problem was with the database, not the interface," Mirabito says, adding that the system is expected to resume in March. Addressing the problems with the tracker app is one of several improvements at CATS, says Mirabito, who gave a series of media interviews Monday to update...

New CATS COO has spotty record in New Orleans

The new second-in-command at CATS is a former New Orleans Regional Transit Authority executive who was fired from the agency in 2006 for signing contracts without approval from the NORTA board, according to media reports. William DeVille is the new chief operating officer for CATS, a position he assumed Dec. 9, shortly after MV Transit was awarded a two-year, $1.4 million management contract by the CATS board. DeVille also holds the title of project manager for MV Transit, which was hired to implement route changes and other improvements to the city bus system. According to a story from May 2013 in The Advocate, DeVille applied to be CATS interim CEO last spring, a position that eventually went to Bob Mirabito, now the permanent CEO. According to the article, DeVille had 30 years experience in mass transit, including 18 at NORTA, and was promoted to be NORTA's general manager in 2002. He was demoted four years later, then fired for signing contracts without board approval, the...

DOTD: More than $705 million spent on La. roads, bridges in 2013

Louisiana spent more than $705 million on transportation infrastructure projects in 2013, according to a year-end report issued today by DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas. The money went toward 326 projects to improve more than 1,200 miles of state roadways and 46 bridges. Listed among some of the largest projects completed last year are the Interstate 10 and Interstate 12 widening projects in the Capital Region. Approximately $86.2 million was spent to widen I-10 from the I-10/I-12 split to Siegen Lane. Work on the project began in January 2009 and was completed in February last year. Meanwhile, $60 million was spent to widen I-10 from Siegen Lane to Highland Road. Construction on that stretch began in August 2010 and was finished in June 2013. Also, $21.9 million went toward the widening of I-12 from Juban Road to Walker. Work began in December 2011 and was completed just last month. Since the Jindal administration took office in January 2008, the report notes, $5.6 billion has been...

Smart growth in the new year

The year behind us included several huge announcements for developments in Baton Rouge, and all of these projects look to improve the urban core of the city in 2014. We take a look at the stats on some of these projects below:

Officials mark completion of another I-12 widening project

Gov. Bobby Jindal joined local officials in Livingston Parish today to formally cut the ribbon on a widening project of Interstate 12 between Juban Road and Walker South Road, or La. 447. The busy stretch of interstate is now six lanes, up from four. The 3.2 miles of interstate was widened at a cost of $21.9 million, which Jindal says brings his administration's total investment in Interstates 10 and 12 to $341 million in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes. "We've committed these dollars because we know it is critical for our infrastructure to keep up with the continued growth of the Capital Region, and this project helps us ensure we have the infrastructure needed to spur more economic growth," Jindal says in a release. The opening of the segment marks the third project to widen I-12 in the Baton Rouge area under the Geaux Wider Program. The first $110 million project...

CATS board to take up 2014 budget today

The CATS board this evening will consider adoption of a proposed 2014 budget that includes an estimated $24 million in revenues and about the same amount of expenditures. Revenue from fares is expected to rise 26% next year to $2.1 million, while the 10.6-mill property tax levied on Baton Rouge and Baker homeowners that benefits CATS is expected to net slightly more than $14.8 million. CATS also expects to get $1.2 million from its cut of Baton Rouge's lodging tax, and federal operating funds are expected to increase 35% to roughly $4.8 million. On the spending side of the equation, operating expenses total slightly more than $22.1 million in the proposed budget, while CATS officials anticipate spending roughly $1.8 million in capital expenditures. The CATS board meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. in the BREC Administration Building, 6201 Florida Blvd. —Staff report

Council considers giving bus bench contractors access to state rights of way in exchange for tighter restrictions

Although a new franchise agreement with bus bench company National Concrete Industries was OK'd by the Metro Council at Wednesday's meeting, a potentially crucial aspect of the contract was removed just before it was approved. Article 11 of the agreement would have permitted National Concrete Industries to place bus benches on state rights of way, a privilege that two other franchisees with bus bench contracts, Geaux Benches and Giraffe Advertising, do not enjoy under their current agreements. State highways running through Baton Rouge include Florida Boulevard, Airline Highway, and O'Neal Lane. Because National Concrete Industries' new contract is far more restrictive than the other two—capping the number of benches they can put out at 300, prohibiting advertisements related to alcohol, cigarettes and/or gambling, and limiting bench placement to a 30-degree angle from the road...

Global business

In the eyes of many business owners who have toyed with the idea of exporting, Geralyn Contini makes it look easy. The CEO of a company that has been building its non-domestic sales for decades, Contini today can say that Schaffer International Services does 100% of its business abroad.

Sheriff's Office starting to receive CATS tax protest letters

Once again, Milton Graugnard—whose lawsuit challenging a 10.6-mill tax benefiting CATS has yet to be resolved since being filed last summer—is calling on those in Baton Rouge and Baker to send a formal letter of protest to Sheriff Sid Gautreaux's office. Last year, the first year the tax was in effect in Baton Rouge and Baker, the Sheriff's Office received 1,299 letters in protest, and $483,118.18 was put into an escrow account pending the outcome of Graugnard's suit—which has been hung up in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals since October 2012. "We had thought we'd hear something in the summer, but we're still waiting," says Graugnard, who is again circulating a sample letter of protest. Those who send letters of protest to the Sheriff's Office by the end of the year will still have to pay the CATS tax; however, their payments will be held in escrow until...

Editor: Bus bench flap shows how far B.R. still has to go

On the same day recently, while DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer was busy getting five new ad-emblazoned bus benches removed from North Boulevard downtown, he was also preparing to go to the airport to pick up esteemed urban planner Andres Duany, the keynote speaker at the annual CPEX Smart Growth Summit. The irony was not lost on Rhorer, says Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel in her latest column. "Duany, after all, was the mastermind behind Plan Baton Rouge—the 1998 blueprint for the redevelopment of downtown—and the theme of his speech was the progress Baton Rouge has made in the years since the plan's inception," Riegel writes. "Yet 15 years later, just down the street from Town Square—the very embodiment of Duany's New Urbanist vision for downtown—a bus bench with an oversized blue and yellow sign exhorting passersby to 'Advertise Here!' marred the streetscape in front of the stately, red brick First Presbyterian Church. Baton Rouge has...

Editor: Fighting the fatigue that can come with big dreams

Between the recent Smart Growth Summit and Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week, it has been a time for dreaming in Baton Rouge, says Business Report Executive Editor David Dodson. "We're good at that. And if ever there were a time for dreaming big in Baton Rouge, it is now," Dodson says in his latest column. "My hope is that we don't allow dream fatigue to creep in. I hope we don't revert to simply letting things happen rather than influencing outcomes through proper planning and adequate funding." Dodson acknowledges he may be the one who's dreaming. "True, we have a wonderful stockpile of visions in the closet, parts of which have actually come to pass. But we still have not confronted the heavy lifting—the big rocks of crime, transportation and education—in a meaningful way," he writes. "Until we do, we will never be able to fully leverage opportunities such as the IBM software development center and the CB&I relocation." Baton Rouge is not the first or only city...

Megasuccess

More than two months after Megabus.com launched express bus service from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and Houston, the low-cost carrier is considering adding a fourth daily trip to its schedule.

Benched

When the Metro Council voted earlier this month to remove from its agenda a Florida company's request for a bus bench franchise, many breathed a sigh of relief.