Wednesday, July 24, 2024

BR-NOLA commuter train gets first round of federal infrastructure funding

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Mueller, Louisiana Illuminator

Louisiana is set to receive its first round of federal infrastructure dollars for five transportation projects across the state, including the proposed commuter rail service connecting Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shaun Wilson announced in a joint press release Thursday that the federal government approved five Louisiana applicants for funding out of the federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program.  

The RAISE grant program, managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), was allocated $2.2 billion this year from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and is slated to receive an additional $7.5 over the next five years. 

Out of 166 projects awarded across the country, five are in Louisiana:

  • The Baton Rouge-New Orleans Inter-City Rail project will receive $20 million to begin purchasing real estate Baton Rouge and Gonzales and for the design and construction of train stations.
  • The Shreveport healthcare corridor project will receive $22.1 million to help fund roadway improvements, electric bus service, bike lanes, a pedestrian bridge and other transportation infrastructure. The 1.6-mile corridor near the intersection of interstates 20 and 49 is planned for an underserved area that is 93% Black, according to the USDOT. 
  • The Natchitoches Safe Streets Revitalization Project will receive $17.2 million to begin rehabilitation of the Texas Street Business Corridor from the Louisiana Highway 1 South Bypass to Washington Street. The project includes rehabilitation of roads and drainage facilities, new pavement, new and widened sidewalks, walking paths, and dedicated bike and pedestrian lanes.
  • The Ferry Road Improvement Project in Plaquemines Parish will receive nearly $1.1 million to pave a roadway to the Pointe-a-la-Hache ferry facility. The project includes the addition of a new southbound left turn lane on Louisiana Highway 23, a northbound deceleration turn lane and acceleration lane, subsurface drainage improvements, and a parking area to accommodate commuters.      
  • The Valentine Pontoon Bridge Replacement project in Lafourche Parish will get $2.6 million to help replace the closed, dilapidated span over Bayou Lafourche between Lockport and Larose.    

Officials in Louisiana have celebrated the grant awards this week.

In a press release earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who represents a large portion of the area the passenger train would serve, announced the funding as “good news” even though he voted against it. 

“While this federal funding for the Capital Region is good news to help relieve pressure on I-10, there are high priority projects we must get built…We will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund priority projects — not the Administration’s pet political projects,” Graves said, in part.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of 19 Republican senators who voted in favor of the funding, said the grants are critical to Louisiana’s infrastructure. 

“Our transportation infrastructure has suffered from neglect and lack of funding for decades,” Cassidy in a statement. “Louisiana is seeing the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” 

Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome expressed excitement over funding for the passenger rail service.

“Connecting Baton Rouge and New Orleans via passenger rail, with key stops in between, will connect communities and enhance economic opportunity for citizens of South Louisiana,” Broome said in a press release.

Broome said the grant will provide the foundation for the long-awaited return of the passenger rail service, which was discontinued in 1969. 

Plans proposed for the project include twice daily commuter service at speeds of 80 mph between the state’s two largest cities, easing congestion along Interstate 10 and offering an alternative evacuation route for hurricanes. A one-way trip would be expected to take about 90 minutes, according to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF), which has been advocating for the rail project. 

BRAF estimated the startup cost at $262 million with the federal government underwriting 80% of that amount. Polling for the project indicated 75% of respondents liked the plan with 63% saying they would be very or somewhat likely to use the train, BRAF said.

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