Much discussion involving the problems with traffic in the Baton Rouge area has been centered on a loop around the city. I feel that many supporters of this proposal are failing to realize that the construction of new highways will only encourage additional low-density suburban growth in Ascension and Livingston Parishes.
Fortunately, the lack of federal funds and “Not in my back yard” attitudes in these parishes will likely kill any prospects of this thing getting built.
Recently, voters approved an increase in funding for the Capital Area Transit System. The additional revenue will allow for more-frequent service and more-logical bus routes. It’s clear that residents are seeing expanded public transportation as a part of the solution.
The problem, however, is that public services are usually designed for the poor. This population segment tends to be underrepresented and less politically active, so these systems usually find themselves disconnected, inefficient and regularly gutted of funding for more politically popular endeavors and commitments.
But what if we established a system that was both dignified and fast, and designed for those who carry with them more positive economic impacts than the working poor?
Because of its proximity to major cargo and industrial facilities, the Baton Rouge area is crisscrossed by railways that generally follow the paths of major intercity highways. Within the city, these railways pass near the airport, major attractions, hospitals, industrial and office parks, shopping centers, sporting venues and universities — an attractive assortment of destinations for a wide variety of demographics.
If the city could find a way for freight trains to bypass these areas, we would free up vast amounts of railway infrastructure that the city could potentially utilize for a dignified rapid transit system.
A new railway bridge across the Mississippi River near Plaquemine could do this. It would connect the UP, CN and KCS railways that parallel the river.
The railroad would travel primarily through rural, state-owned lands — meaning acquisition, engineering and construction would consume just a fraction of the resources needed for a freeway traveling through existing developments. While freeways can take decades to build, a rapid transit system along existing railways could be operational within a few years.
In addition, industrial railway traffic originating from refineries on the edges of the city would maintain uninhibited access to either of the two bridges, while passenger traffic moves people around the commercial and residential areas in the city.
Establishing a rapid transit system within Baton Rouge would lead to significant reductions in highway traffic, in addition to improved connectivity between existing developments — for a substantially smaller cost than current proposals. In light of our budget woes, this should be an option worth considering.
David M. Raffray