City-parish officials are mulling over three short-term options to relocate the problematic downtown CATS transfer hub that’s currently located outside the Old State Capitol, and they plan to find a long-term solution through a study that will begin next year. CATS CEO Bob Mirabito outlined possible solutions to a meeting of the CATS Planning Committee on Friday.
The Metro Council has asked officials from CATS, the Downtown Development District, the city-parish Planning Commission and other organizations to discuss moving the hub after the council delayed a decision to approve three new routes that could lead to further congestion.
Planning Director Frank Duke, who will lead the study to find a long-term solution, has experience finessing public transit in a downtown environment, Mirabito said at Friday’s meeting. Duke helped design a solution to a similar problem in Norfolk, Virginia. Mirabito said Duke hopes to find a location for an off-street hub in a centric location. Mirabito said Duke also hopes the final destination of the CATS hub will be within a block of another downtown public transit option, like the streetcar that will connect downtown to LSU.
Short-term options include space in front of the River Center, which DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer suggested at the Oct. 22 Metro Council meeting. But members of the Planning Committee said that location doesn’t work for elderly and disabled passengers who would have to walk up the hill between River Road and Third Street on North Boulevard.
“They may be headed to City Hall or the court house. If you are physically challenged, that hill is a pretty decent hill,” Mirabito said.
Another option would be an on-street transfer point on Convention Street between Seventh and Eighth streets. CATS would lease space from BREC to put up temporary shelters at the park located there.
But Mirabito pointed out there could be a problem when St. James Episcopal Day School lets out. Carpool traffic, Mirabito says, “backs up to the post office, so there we go. We’re inconveniencing another group.”
The location that seems to have the most potential is the parking lot for the post office at 750 Florida St. That would allow CATS buses to access the transfer hub from both Florida and Convention streets and it would provide for safe, off-street transfers. But it would require federal action to get approval. CATS has already had conversations with U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy’s office. Though a final solution hasn’t yet been hammered out, Mirabito is optimistic.
“We now have the people at the table that we need to have total buy-in,” he said. “We have the leaders in the community we need to have a solution.”
Mirabito said he plans to bring the routes back before the Metro Council at its Nov. 25 meeting but won’t implement routes that affect downtown until a short-term solution for the hub is established. The committee also discussed asking CATS attorneys to draw up a bill for the next legislative session to nix the Metro Council’s oversight of route changes. —Kelly Connelly