Tram decision draws mixed reaction from Baton Rouge officials, community leaders

    Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s decision not to apply this year for federal funding for the proposed 3.4-mile tram between LSU and downtown is drawing mixed reaction from elected officials and community leaders.

    Broome’s assistant chief administrative assistant, Rowdy Gaudet, confirmed Sunday the city would not make the September deadline to apply for $67.5 million in federal funding needed to help make the tram a reality. He says the mayor wants to continue to study the project, which has been in the works since 2013.

    “I’m discouraged,” says Metro Council Member Tara Wicker, who represents the district along Nicholson Drive where the tram would be located. “I’ve always been supportive of the tram. I believe it would serve as an economic engineer, not just for Old South Baton Rouge but also as a model for how we can expand and utilize diverse modes of transportation throughout the parish.”

    However, other members of the Metro Council—including some, like Buddy Amoroso, who frequently clash with the mayor—applaud her decision.

    “To me a tram in Baton Rouge between the State Capitol and LSU would be phenomenal,” Amoroso says. “But Baton Rouge has so many other infrastructure needs I think we need to take care of those needs before we think about a tram.”

    Amoroso’s opposition illustrates the curious alliance that has caused problems for the tram between mostly conservative whites in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish, who oppose the project as an example of government waste, and predominantly black democrats in north Baton Rouge, who resent spending more public money on downtown and south Baton Rouge. Amoroso represents a conservative district in southeast Baton Rouge and has voted against funding the project in the past.

    Center for Planning Excellence Executive Director Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, who supported the project, says it’s unfortunate the tram is getting such a bad rap. As an advocate of New Urbanist principles, which call for walkable communities and public transit, she says the tram would benefit many more people in the parish than just those in the narrow sliver along Nicholson Drive.

    “Every other medium sized city in the country is trying to get funding for a tram,” Thomas says. “We’re always trying to be a progressive city. This was an opportunity for us.”

    But Bryan Jones, associate vice president at HNTB, the city’s contractor for the project, says it’s too soon to throw in the towel, and he isn’t giving up hope that the project may come to fruition eventually.

    “We understand such transit projects are very complex and take time to advance from planning and design to construction and operation,” Jones says. “HNTB remains committed to the mayor and her administration to assist in answering any questions about the proposed project and strengthening its application for federal funds.”

    —Stephanie Riegel

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