Broome, Graves met to discuss Baton Rouge tram

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome was scheduled to meet today with Congressman Garret Graves to discuss, among other things, the future of the proposed Nicholson Drive tram and how it could be part of a larger mass transit network in Baton Rouge.

Broome says she wants to see what kind of federal funding opportunities might exist to help defray the cost of an expanded mass transit plan for the city that could include a tram, electric buses and additional CATS bus routes.

Earlier in the week, Broome met with executives from HNTB, the engineering firm selected in 2016 to help the city design and plan the proposed 3.4-mile streetcar line that would run between LSU and downtown. HNTB would also help prepare the city’s grant application to the Federal Transit Administration for some $85 million, about 50% of the estimated project cost.

At the meeting with HNTB, Broome asked the firm to include in its scope of work for the city an additional item that would map out how the tram project would fit into a broader transit and mobility plan.

“I told them there really needs to be an overall mass transit and mobility plan that includes the tram link corridor but goes beyond the tram link corridor,” she says. “I talked about the need for collaboration with CATS and further investigation for federal support for a broad plan.”

It’s unclear whether the expanded mass transit plan Broome is pushing will derail the tram project. The city-parish decided not to apply this year for the $85 million grant, which was due in September, because Broome wanted to rethink the project, which initially was well received by the FTA and got speedy environmental clearance.

HNTB Gulf Coast Deputy Office Leader Bryan Jones says in order to make the September 2018 application deadline the mayor will need to decide by February whether she wants to move forward with the project. Jones says it will take about six months to prepare the application and address several key issues in it, namely, how will the tram be funded, how it will be governed and operated, and who will be riding it.

Broome says she has serious concerns about funding for the project. Preliminary ideas floated during former Mayor Kip Holden’s administration included creation of a taxing district in the area around the tram line, and utilization of parking revenues from a new downtown parking system.

But the parking system overhaul is running a year behind schedule and hasn’t yet been implemented, and the only discussions around creation of a taxing district have been met by resistance from downtown business leaders and some Metro Council members.

“There are still pieces to that puzzle that need to be in place when we talk about the financing and I believe we have to talk about the tram in the context of a broader vision of transportation,” Broome says. “It’s a progressive transportation progress. I understand that. But we have to show a bigger vision to everybody in this parish.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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