With a February deadline rapidly approaching, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome remains undecided as to whether she will push forward with plans for Tramlink BR, a 3.4-mile modern streetcar that would run along Nicholson Drive, connecting LSU with downtown.
The mayor must decide in the next few weeks whether to enter into a contract with the city’s consulting firm on the project, HNTB, to prepare an application to submit to the federal government for some $85 million, half the estimated $170 million needed for the project. The application is due in September and HNTB officials have said it will take about six months to complete.
The prospects for the tram do not appear strong. Broome clearly is not advocating for the project, though she acknowledges it would have some merit as an economic development tool. She’s also not pushing the Metro Council to fund the HNTB contract. Broome says her administration has been talking to council members in recent weeks and sees little interest from them in moving forward.
“The next step in the process would be to bring the contract to the Metro Council and there is not a whole lot of enthusiasm right now on either side of the aisle,” she says. “It’s a bipartisan issue and, once again, I believe it has to do with the overall issue of traffic and economic development and everything, where people feel like a broader vision is needed.”
In the spring of 2017, the Metro Council selected HNTB, which shepherded the project successfully through the federal environmental review process in 2015 and 2016, to do the engineering, design, feasibility and funding component of the project. But funding for the contract was never approved and it was never executed.
The contract would cost some $240,000, which the Metro Council would appropriate. HNTB would charge an additional $105,000 to expand the scope of its work and develop a broader transit plan that would tie the tram into the existing bus system in north Baton Rouge.
“My constant comment has been I would love to see a plan that is more inclusive, where the tram is a part of a larger transit plan,” she says. “But there is a price tag attached to it.”
Broome says she is committed to using some $14 million worth of road transfer credits from the state to help pay for the tram. But that’s just a fraction of the $85 million the city-parish would have to come up with to fund construction of the project. A taxing district would also have to be created to fund ongoing operations of the tram.
“I don’t want to take the tram off the table and I want to exhaust every possibility,” she says. “But there are a lot of things we haven’t ironed out like funding sources.”