If there is a category of governmental Oscars that includes Studies that didn’t need to be-made, we have a nominee: yet another feasibility study of a passenger rail link between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
This issue has been studied to death — and when planners ask the question of what infrastructure is missing from south Louisiana, it’s almost a no-brainer.
A 2009 study of rail service between the two cities envisioned passenger stations in downtown Baton Rouge, southeast East Baton Rouge Parish, Gonzales, LaPlace, Kenner and downtown New Orleans.
Before that, the Louisiana Speaks master plan for South Louisiana done in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita came to the same conclusions about the importance and, yes, the feasibility of rail links.
We don’t want to knock efforts to move this process along. Regional planning agencies are spending money on a new commuter rail study, and maybe that will come up with some different bottom line than the studies before.
But this is commuter rail — not a futuristic high-speed train but a 75-mph or faster traditional train, such as those commuting between other cities. The idea that this is some kind of far-out risky venture that needs a slew of feasibility studies seems excessive.
One of the national planners who has looked at the issue is John Fregonese.
Fregonese says New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the two largest urban areas of Louisiana, need a stronger link so they can be considered sister cities such as Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas or Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota.
“They have a lot more to offer together than New Orleans or Baton Rouge separately,” Fregonese said.
This is profoundly important to the long-term development of a more viable economy in Louisiana.
In 2010, the Louisiana Legislature approved a bill creating the Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact, which aims to create a five-member panel to see if local governments along the proposed route would be willing to levy taxes and take other steps to support the rail service.
This sort of agency would be necessary even if Gov. Bobby Jindal had not spurned the chance, under the deceased federal stimulus program, for federal funds for tracks and trains for Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Coordination of the commuter service with communities all along the route is part of a process of getting it going, and making it financially rewarding for the cities involved and the commuters.
Yet is there any doubt that much of the next study will be dusting off the previous studies, to reach the same conclusions?