Mayor Sharon Weston Broome confirmed this morning she will not pursue federal funding for Tramlink BR, a 3.4-mile streetcar line that had been proposed for Nicholson Drive between LSU and downtown.
Broome will instead pursue funding for a bus rapid transit system that could be used not only along the Nicholson Corridor but throughout the city-parish.
“A bus rapid transit line is similar in many ways to a modern streetcar line but at a much lower cost,” Broome said this morning, following a panel discussion at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s annual Statewide Economic Development Summit.
The mayor’s announcement comes as little surprise. The tram concept was the brainchild of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which is developing the Water Campus along the Nicholson Corridor, and was enthusiastically embraced by former Mayor Kip Holden’s administration.
Broome, however, never warmed to the controversial idea, which was opposed by factions in north Baton Rouge and the southeastern portion of the parish alike.
Broome said while she understood the tram’s attractiveness as an economic development tool she favored investing in a system that would benefit mass transit across the parish, not along just a single corridor.
“The vision for the tram was a progressive one, combining transportation with an opportunity for development along the proposed corridor,” Broome said. “I am committed to being progressive, but we must be financially prudent with limited transportation dollars and bus rapid transit does both.”
Broome couldn’t say this morning exactly how much a BRT system along Nicholson Drive might cost but she says it will be less than one-third of the $170 million needed to develop the proposed tram, half of which was expected to come from the federal government.
She also points out that BRT is less expensive to operate and that the Capital Area Transit System is already developing a BRT line along Plank Road with plans to expand.
“We didn’t even know how we were going to pay to operate a tram,” she said. “So this makes a lot more sense.”
It’s unclear whether any of the work that has already been done planning for the tram could be applied to plans for a BRT line along Nicholson. Some $2.8 million, including $1 million in city-parish funds, has already been spent on preliminary design and environmental clearance for the tram. Another $10 million for design and engineering work was approved by the Metro Council in 2016 but was never spent.
“In transitioning from a modern streetcar to a bus rapid transit project a conversation with the FTA will be necessary to determine what, if any, components of the previous project can be leveraged and utilized in order to accomplish the mayor’s vision for BRT along the Nicholson corridor,” says Bryan Jones, deputy office leader for engineering firm HNTB, the city’s hired consultant on the project.