Covering Louisiana

Feb 9, 2014 12:51 PM by katc

Fast-growing corridor may get streetcar line

Plans are in the works for a $100 million streetcar line in the fast-developing Nicholson Drive corridor.

Planner John Fregonese told The Advocate the corridor is a hotbed of commercial and residential development. Fregonese is working to implement the city's master land-use plan, known as FutureBR.

He cited developments such as IBM's service center, the residential tower going up next to it, the Water Campus coastal research center and the mixed-use River District development.

More than 3,700 housing units, from condominiums in the River District to new residential units at LSU, are under construction on the drawing board.

More than 2 million square feet of commercial and office development also is in the works.

Fregonese said the 7.38-mile streetcar route would run from the Capitol to Tiger Stadium.

A study has shown that a streetcar line would be feasible and could be done without rebuilding roads. The line would easily fit under Interstate 10.

"Most of it could be done without affecting curbs," Fregonese said. The work also fits with LSU's master plan for the Nicholson corridor.

The next step is to do a funding plan.

Typically, about 70 percent of streetcar line costs are paid for by federal funds; the rest of the money comes from local sources, Fregonese said.

While federal money has been limited in recent years because of budget-cutting, Fregonese said cities have received money for streetcar projects. The $53 million Loyola Avenue streetcar line, which opened in New Orleans in 2013, received $45 million in federal funds.

Other cities to get federal money for streetcars include Washington, Atlanta, Seattle and Portland, Ore., where Fregonese works.

The amount of development activity in the Nicholson corridor makes Baton Rouge competitive for federal money for a streetcar line, he said.

And the impact on economic development is one of the criteria used to determine if federal money should be used on a transportation project, Fregonese said.

Streetcars attract 50 percent more riders compared to municipal buses on the same routes, Fregonese said. Businesses and residents are attracted to an area because of the presence of a streetcar line, he said.

"Sometimes, you can get 30 or 40 times the private investment along the route," he said.

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