Train station update coming in March for proposed LaPlace stop between B.R. & N.O.

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, February 20, 2019

LAPLACE — Research supporting LaPlace as a stop for passenger train travel between New Orleans and Baton Rouge will be shared with the community in late March, following a slight delay in action on the federal level.

The Southern Rail Commission and Federal Rail Administration required a one-month extension to review St. John the Baptist Parish’s feasibility report, which seeks to prove LaPlace is capable of sustaining a new transit station near Main Street.

The station would be part of a proposed passenger line providing at least four round trips a day with planned stops in Downtown Baton Rouge, Suburban Baton Rouge, Gonzales, LaPlace, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and the New Orleans Union Terminal, near Mercedes Benz Superdome.

Once established, train service could increase from four to eight round trips per day with a maximum speed of 110 miles per hour.

As LaPlace and each of the other stops along the rail line provide feasibility research, the state can secure funding as it becomes available.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said the feasibility review, originally slated to finish in February, would be completed in March.

In a vote of seven in favor, two absent, St. John Parish Council members authorized Robottom to sign a grant extension with the Southern Rail Commission. The $145,000 grant provided through the Commission fully covers feasibility expenses.                                                       

“The grant extension was requested by the Southern Rail Commission to facilitate reimbursement to the parish for expended funds,” Robottom said. “This was somewhat impacted by the government shutdown, and we hope to get back on track.”

St. John Planning and Zoning director René Pastorek said the delay has not significantly impacted project timelines. He said a community presentation would take place in late March on Main Street, though an exact date and location has not been announced.

Documents being reviewed on the federal level include recommendations for how St. John Parish can maximize economic opportunities the transit station would provide.

“When funding becomes available, the research shows communities have done their homework,” Pastorek said.

“If federal dollars are invested in an area, we need to do everything we can to reap those benefits.”

In a community survey conducted in May, participants were most excited about gaining transportation to Saints games, LSU games and other events around the state, according to Pastorek.

Approximately 60 percent of the 378 participants indicated a desire for the transit station to double as a town center with free parking, Wi-Fi and food options.

The Main Street Scenario includes a transit station with additional revitalization efforts, including a pedestrian walking plaza and a green park to separate expansion from existing commercial properties.

Community members have also expressed a desire for an antique/boutique-shopping district, art wrapped food trucks and bike paths near the train station.

Additional Main Street enhancements would not be federally funded but would give the parish leaders a blueprint for future expansion, Pastorek said.

Projected costs for the multimodal transit station were not available this week with the feasibility project still under review.