Will we ever see passenger rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans?

Engineers and planners have been conducting studies of a high-speed rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans for years. But in 2009, just as the state legislature and transportation authorities were ready to snatch $300 million in federal stimulus funds for the project, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal stopped the train. He argued the annual bill to maintain the rail line would be too costly.

The project has since lost steam. Kansas City Southern, which owns the railway, was initially enthusiastic about the project, according to Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s Executive Vice President John Spain, who is also chairman of the Southern Rail Commission.

“They had put up lots of money in preparation for this,” Spain says. “So until we have the leadership in place and the matching dollars, they think it would be a waste of time to come to the table.”

The hiccups haven’t stopped people from dreaming. An April poll of residents along the proposed route, conducted by the SRC, BRAC and others, showed 85% support rail travel between the cities. Business owners say it would help create a unified super-region.

Planners lowered their standards from high-speed to basic passenger rail—still operating just above I-10 speed limits, though. The project would now cost around
$260 million.

In June 2018, Baton Rouge, Gonzales, LaPlace and New Orleans unveiled renderings for their respective train stations, many tied to redevelopment projects. In Baton Rouge, the station would be on Government Street next to Electric Depot. Other stops would include the Health District, Gonzales and the New Orleans airport. But by September 2018, transportation officials said they still didn’t have the funds to apply for a matching federal grant.

This August, though, the state announced federal support for a similar project: reintroducing passenger rail from New Orleans to Mobile, which ceased operations after Hurricane Katrina.

While not connected to the local plan, Spain says it would help build momentum and shows federal transportation authorities have made passenger rail a priority.

“We do have to figure out a financial structure to support this, but we know the federal dollars are available,” he says. “I think there’s widespread support for it, so it’s not out of the question to think it could be operating in 5 to 6 years.” southernrailcommission.org

Status: Still on the drawing board


Construction to expand I-10 through Baton Rouge likely to take a decade

Status: Conducting environmental assessments

The state Department of Transportation and Development opened a new Terrace Avenue off-ramp on I-110 southbound in October. While small, the project is meant to relieve some congestion at the poorly constructed I-10/I-110 merge.

It serves as a precursor to a massive undertaking to widen I-10 from the Mississippi River bridge to Essen Lane. That includes new travel lanes in both directions, new on- and off-ramps, and a much-needed change on eastbound I-10 coming from the bridge that will let drivers continue on two designated lanes rather than merge into one.

While studies have repeatedly shown adding lanes doesn’t reduce traffic jams, DOTD officials are pushing forward with the backing of more than $350 million in state funds.

Construction isn’t slated to start until 2020 at the earliest, and then travelers can expect it to cause headaches for at least a decade. Honk if you love Baton Rouge traffic! i10br.com


Status: Conducting environmental assessments

Locals have been asking for years for an interstate loop to relieve Capital City traffic, and a new Mississippi River bridge is the first step. DOTD has begun exploring locations, and all of them are to the south of Baton Rouge. At least five sites along the river have been pinpointed from Brusly to Plaquemine, with the aim of connecting  La. 1 on the west side to La. 30 on the east side. Total cost would be more than  $1 billion, including adding lanes to La. 30 to handle more traffic. We’re also looking at around five years before the first studies would be complete.

This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.

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