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Baton Rouge - December 2016

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Baton Rouge — Federal Request Delay?

December 2016

The Business Report site reported December 5 that Baton Rouge, the Louisiana state capital city, may delay a request for federal funds to build a modern streetcar line from downtown to the Louisiana State University campus. It might wind up looking like Tucson, Ariz., modern streetcar, or those at Cincinnati, Kansas City or Atlanta.

The city-parish is considering deferring for a year its request for $67.5 million in federal funds for the TramLink BR streetcar line that is proposed for a 3.4-mile stretch along Nicholson Drive.

Securing the federal money is key for the future of the project, and will cover about 50% of the estimated $170 million total price tag.

The city-parish originally planned to seek funding for the streetcar in the federal 2018 fiscal year budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1, 2017. However, Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel says the city may not seek inclusion until the 2019 budget, which doesn’t go into effect until Oct. 1, 2018.

“We’re evaluating the pros and cons of each one,” Daniel says. “There were pros for this budget, but there were also some cons in doing that. We got behind on getting everything done and, really, the Federal Transit Authority would prefer you have your engineering started and making progress along there so they can properly evaluate your application.”

Daniel attributes delays in the process to the August flood, which pushed back the selection of the engineering team that will do the design and engineering work on the project. Last week, two months behind schedule, the city’s Engineering Selection Committee voted to enter into contract negotiations with HNTB for the estimated $10 million engineering contract after the only other competing firm, Aecom, dropped out of the running.

HNTB has previously worked on the project and did the environmental impact study that was completed earlier this year.

Now that the engineering team is in place, its advisers are working with the city-parish to determine whether it is in Baton Rouge’s best interest to apply for funding next year or the following. While a delay would mean the future of the project rests in the hands of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, city officials and HNTB executives say they’re not worried the new president will do away with the popular program, which has funded modern streetcar lines in cities around the country.

“In my discussions with the FTA they said change of administrations doesn’t really affect projects at this level,” says Stephen Bonnette, director of transportation for the city-parish. “That’s not to say it can’t happen, but projects at this level are typically controlled by staff, and staff doesn’t change from one administration to the next.”

The future of the project also will be contingent on support from the next Metro Council—which would have to approve creation of a special taxing district to pay for the other 50% of the project—and the new mayor. Both mayoral candidates, Sharon Weston Broome and Bodi White, have said they support the streetcar, though Broome expressed some reservations at a mayoral forum last week.

HNTB Project Manager Bryan Jones says the firm has previously discussed the project with both candidates and “we look forward to discussing in greater detail with them and the Metro Council once the election is behind us.”


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