BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Dreams of a streetcar serving the Nicholson Drive corridor that connects downtown Baton Rouge to LSU may take years to become reality, but the Capital Area Transit System is stepping up with a plan to fill the void.
The Advocate reported (http://bit.ly/1qcLCkq) the parish bus system has decided to dedicate about $1.8 million in federal grants to the growing Nicholson Drive corridor.
The system, known as CATS, received federal earmarks in 2006 for a service called Bus Rapid Transit, which is a faster bus route with more buses making limited stops — often using a dedicated lane.
For years, CATS had planned to use the money to provide the service on Florida Boulevard, but the grants sat dormant because the underfunded agency lacked the necessary 20 percent match. Now that CATS has a dedicated funding source, it has turned its sights to Nicholson Drive in light of a recent push to build the streetcar line.
CATS CEO Bob Mirabito said the funding includes about $823,000 for equipment that could be used for two buses and a shelter or station. The remaining money is dedicated to design, engineering and planning.
He said the planning for the rapid transit service will be done with the eventual trolley in mind, an effort that should cut down some of the long-term planning costs.
Plans for the streetcar were unveiled in February by John Fregonese, the planner who is helping to implement the FutureBR master land-use plan. The cost of the project has been estimated at between $60 million and $100 million and the length of the route has ranged from 3.5 miles to 7.4 miles.
Davis Rhorer, director of the Downtown Development District, said the city-parish is already seeking federal grants, but he speculates the actual streetcar route could be four or five years away.
He said with new developments on Nicholson and the creation of the Water Campus there will soon be a heavy demand for public transit on the road.
"It's an urban response to suburban sprawl," Rhorer said. "We must have efficient transportation to move people along."
Mirabito said the need for bus rapid transit services on Florida Boulevard was diminished because CATS has already added a limited-stop service for that route.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com