BY ted griggs
Advocate business writer
August 22, 2012
The city-parish has secured a $1.1 million federal grant that will allow it to design and begin construction of the planned downtown greenway, a three-mile network of bike paths and pedestrian walkways that will stretch from Memorial Stadium to City Park, Mayor-President Kip Holden said Tuesday.
Also, the Downtown Development District announced an $886,000 federal grant for the first phase of a gateway to the Mississippi River bike trail on River Road at Florida Street.
“These funds are really something that we’ve gone after. And we’ve been very aggressive at going after grants and other funding in order to really take Baton Rouge to the next level,” Holden told attendees of the DDD’s monthly board meeting.
The $1.1 million grant gives the city $3 million for the greenway project, which is enough to design the entire system and construct the portion from the newly opened North Boulevard Town Square to City Park, said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the DDD.
Rhorer said that it will likely be a couple months before a roughly six- to eight-month design process can begin, but “a year from now this thing may be under construction and on its way.”
The idea for the greenway has roots in the DDD’s effort to reduce the extent to which Interstate 110 divides downtown and Midcity. Rhorer, his staff and local leaders looked at how lighting and sculptures were used to activate the space under elevated highways in other cities.
It evolved into the greenway project after Rhorer and his staff visited Buffalo Bayou, a large-scale greenway under the interstate in Houston, because it would increase the connectivity between parks and neighborhoods.
The second phase of Plan Baton Rouge emphasized the importance of downtown’s resurgence expanding outside its immediate borders, and the creation of a greenway would help fulfill that initiative.
Rhorer said the greenway, which will ultimately connect seven BREC parks and neighborhoods with LSU, downtown and the bike path on the Mississippi River levee, needs to be planned entirely so that future phases of the project can qualify for construction grants in the years ahead.
A preliminary feasibility study a couple years ago pegged the total cost of the project at anywhere between $3 million for a bare-bones version all the way up to $12 million for the design with the most amenities. Private fundraising could join state and federal grants as key ways of getting future phases of the greenway constructed.
Although the greenway will run beneath portions of Interstate 110, the trail’s design — plenty of lights, good viewpoints and visibility — will help make it safe for users, Rhorer said.
Similar safety concerns were raised with the bike path on top of the Misssissippi River levee, Rhorer said. But the path is lit and people are always using it and there have been no problems with crime.
Rhorer said he expects the greenway will be the same.
The $886,000 grant for the bike trail head and gateway would also fund a connection from the levee at Florida Street to the town square via a walkway along the west side of a tree-lined River Road, Rhorer said.
It will also include landscaping; brick inlays at the intersection’s crosswalks; improvements to the crossing over the railroad tracks and up to the 6-mile bike trail; and monument sign that says “Mississippi River.”
Rhorer said that point is the city’s primary street-level pedestrian access across the railroad tracks to the river, and the city needs to make it count.
An as-yet unfunded second phase will include an overlook area on the levee where people can sit at tables and enjoy a view of the river.