A selection committee that evaluated proposals for a rail station master plan is recommending the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority—the agency spearheading the planning process—award the roughly $450,000 contract to engineering firm HNTB.
The RDA board of commissioners will vote on the committee’s recommendation at its meeting Thursday.
HNTB was one of four firms that responded to the RDA’s Request for Proposals to design a rail station master plan for a proposed passenger train that would connect Baton Rouge to New Orleans. The controversial rail project, which has been in the works for years, is seen by some as a pipe dream but by others as a progressive solution to the area’s transportation infrastructure woes and a catalyst for economic development.
Though the proposed rail still has significant hurdles to overcome, Baton Rouge is moving forward with planning for it, largely as a result of efforts of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which has been pushing for the project.
HNTB, assuming it is approved for the contract by the RDA board next week, will be asked to identify sites for two rail stations—one downtown, one in the area of the Baton Rouge Health District—as well as to design those stations, identify potential funding sources for capital costs and address other logistical and technical issues.
Selection committee members say they voted to recommend HNTB for the contract over HOK, Gateway Planning and GIS because its proposal was significantly more impressive and comprehensive than the others.
“HNTB was my top choice and I will acknowledge I didn’t want them to be my top choice,” says Planning Director Frank Duke, who served on the selection committee. “I wanted to see if we could bring in some new blood, new ideas, because they have done so much work in the parish. But their proposal was head and shoulders above any of the others.”
HNTB has done extensive work for the city-parish on the proposed proposed Nicholson Corridor streetcar, which is on hold while Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration decides whether to move forward with it. The firm also recently received a contract to complete a stormwater master plan that will evaluate potential drainage projects.
Selection committee member Davis Rhorer also says HNTB’s proposal stood out among the others.
“It was just outstanding,” Rhorer says. “It was comprehensive and had an understanding of mass transit.”
HNTB’s Gulf Coast Deputy Office Leader Bryan Jones says the firm is humbled by the committee’s evaluation and recommendation to the RDA board, adding, “we look forward to presenting our qualifications and approach next week for this exciting and transformational transportation project for Baton Rouge.”
Funding for the master plan will come from a $250,000 grant from the Southern Rail Commission, which was awarded in 2016, and $250,000 in matching funds, which was approved by the Metro Council last year under former Mayor Kip Holden.