Access around the Water Campus is set to improve, provided the Metro Council signs off on an item at its meeting this week that would create two new roadway-grade railroad crossings at the riverfront research park.
The requested crossings would be an upgrade to the Oklahoma Street crossing as well as a new one roughly a football field away at Water Street, a newly created roadway at the Water Campus connecting Nicholson Drive to the entrance of the Center for Coastal and Deltaic Studies, which sits on the site of the old city dock.
Though the measure is not expected to be controversial among council members, the creation of two new railroad crossings comes at the expense of two existing crossings, which will be removed. That’s because railroad companies have placed a moratorium on the creation of new crossings as a means to reduce accidents, according to Fred Raiford, director of transportation and drainage for the city-parish.
As part of a deal negotiated with Illinois Central Railroad to create the new Water Campus crossings, the crossing on North Street downtown, between the levee and River Road, and another at the LSU Fire Academy will be removed. The work will be funded by The Water Campus, which is being developed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s real estate company, and by the state.
The changes are not expected to be an inconvenience, according to Raiford. For the LSU site, plans call for the university to extend the Fire Academy’s access drive to Ben Hur Road, where a road-grade crossing already exists.
At North Street downtown, the existing crossing has been closed to vehicular traffic for more than a year, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to build a flood gate there. However, the crossing is also a convenient place for pedestrians and cyclists to access the levee and a nature preserve the Downtown Development District would like to see developed on the other side of the batture, says DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer.
Raiford says he is aware of the need for pedestrian access to the DeSoto Park area and is talking to the railroads about possible locations for a crossing but hasn’t come up with one just yet.
“It’s a 15-acre site of batture property, where we’ve designed a one-mile nature trail,” Rhorer says. “It goes underwater when the river is high, but when it’s not, it’s a real asset and could be a great amenity for people who live downtown.”