Transportation head Foxx to push for funding for Nicholson streetcar project, Baton Rouge leaders say

    U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx will push for full funding in the 2016-17 federal budget for Baton Rouge’s proposed Nicholson Drive streetcar project, according to city and civic leaders who met with Foxx last month when the secretary was in the city.

    “Secretary Foxx told a rather large group of us  … that it is a priority of his to get (the project) in next year’s budget,” Baton Rouge Area Foundation President John Davies told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge today in a speech that highlighted BRAF’s plans to develop alternative forms of transportation for the region. “We’re thrilled with that.”

    Foxx, who has ties to Baton Rouge through his wife and is a personal friend of Mayor Kip Holden, was the keynote speaker at last month’s Center for Planning Excellence’s Smart Growth Summit. Both Davies and city-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel say Foxx made clear his intention to include construction dollars for the proposed 3.2-mile streetcar project in the president’s budget.

    That’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds. The city-parish must first submit a detailed proposal to the Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration, which will evaluate the proposal and grade it. Provided the proposal receives high enough marks, however, Foxx will recommend it for inclusion in 2016-17 budget, Daniel says.

    “We have a lot of work to do,” Daniel says. “But we’re optimistic and very excited.”

    It is unclear exactly how much the city-parish will ask for in its proposal to the feds. The total price tag for the streetcar project, which would link LSU with downtown, has been estimated at $100 million. Daniel says the city-parish would not expect to receive the full amount nor will it ask for it. He says key stakeholders involved in the project are meeting Thursday afternoon to iron out more details relative to funding.

    The Nicholson Drive streetcar project, which has already received $1.7 million in federal planning dollars, has been hailed as an example of the kinds of alternative forms of transportation the traffic-plagued city-parish needs to develop.  BRAF will focus much of its energies in the coming months on such projects, Davies told the Rotarians.

    In addition to the streetcar, BRAF is exploring several other potential options to help alleviate the area’s gridlock, including a car-sharing program, a bike-sharing program and even a gondola.

    “We are studying gondolas,” Davies said. “We have had one round of meeting with providers and are getting ready to start a second round. That is the most far-out idea.”

    Exploring alternative forms of transportation, what Davies called “The New Mobility,” will be one of BRAF’s key priorities in 2016 and beyond, he said.

    “We are just starting on getting this done, and we don’t have the data yet to argue which alternatives are preferable,” he said. “But we are well on our way.”

    —Stephanie Riegel

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