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Holden, Metro Council members travel to Kansas City to study streetcar line

A delegation of city leaders, including Mayor Kip Holden, six members of the Metro Council and Baton Rouge Area Foundation President and CEO John Davies, are back today after a whirlwind trip to Kansas City, Missouri, earlier this week to learn about that city’s new streetcar line.

KC Streetcar, which runs for 2.2 miles through downtown Kansas City, launched roughly three weeks ago. But already the area surrounding the streetcar line has experienced an economic development boom, with $1.6 billion in new construction projects either completed, underway or announced since planning for the project began in 2014.

“We learned a lot about the tram system and how it has spawned development in their downtown,” says Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel, who also went on the trip. “Property values have increased tremendously, it has been a boon for their city and it has attracted new businesses.”

The mini-canvass trip comes as consultants for the city-parish are completing an environmental assessment on a proposed three-mile modern-style streetcar on Nicholson Drive that will link LSU with downtown Baton Rouge.

The city-parish organized the trip at the suggestion of its consultants on the project, HNTB, which also worked on the KC Streetcar and has its home offices in that city.

“We wanted the mayor and the council members to see a real life project and the impact it can have,” says Bryan Jones, strategic planning leader for HNTB.

Besides the positive economic impact, local leaders learned about the various ways of funding the big-ticket project. The KC Streetcar cost a total of $102 million to build, which, at $25.3 million per mile of track, is in keeping with other recent streetcar projects around the country.

The estimated price tag for the proposed TramLinkBR is somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million, which would come from a variety of federal, state and local funding sources.

The city-parish has already received $3 million in federal TIGER grant funds for the planning of the streetcar and has applied for another $25 million in TIGER funds. Later this summer, it will also ask for an allocation in the president’s transportation budget. Before that can happen, however, the environmental assessment phase of the project, currently underway, must be completed.

Daniel says the city-parish is working on a funding plan but is not yet ready to announce it publicly.

“I want to meet with the council members on it first,” he says.

Councilwoman Tara Wicker was among the six who took the trip and says she is enthusiastic about its potential.

“It was a real insightful trip,” she says. “We we were able to ride on the streetcar and visit the operation center. It was very informational and gave us ideas about what could happen here if the right partners and the right funding came together.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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