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Passenger Rail Feasibility Study Released

Revised plans and cost projections accelerate timeline

A feasibility study of a potential passenger rail line serving the Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans corridor has been released by the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, the Capital Region Planning Commission and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Significant findings include strategies for right-sizing the project with reduced capital and operating costs; identification of potential stations, including new proposed stops at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and Baton Rouge’s  medical corridor; and a business plan that outlines a phased approach, steps for implementation, and funding and financing possibilities. Along with the growing momentum of the Rail Compact, completion of the study is an important benchmark for making the long-anticipated passenger rail project a reality.

Download the complete Feasibility Study.

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Louisiana Pedestrian Fatality Report, Pedestrian/Bicycle Project Funding Guide Released

Louisiana ranks 5th worst in the nation for pedestrian fatalities and these deaths are largely preventable.

The Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) and the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) are releasing two critical resources to help address this disturbing trend.

The Louisiana Pedestrian Fatality Report is a summary of the pedestrian deaths in the state over the last decade — 2003 through 2012. It shows a growing trend in pedestrian fatalities and a widening gap between socioeconomic groups.

To help improve these statistics, Walk + Ride: A Resource Guide to Funding Pedestrian, Bicycle and Complete Streets Projects in Louisiana is a tool designed to help citizens and community leaders understand how to navigate the complex transportation funding process. This will allow more dollars to be allocated to pedestrian and bicycle projects that will increase safety and, hopefully, lower the number of pedestrian and bicycle deaths in our state.

Read the full Press Release for more information.

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Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact hosts inaugural meeting

New Orleans’ Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer elected first Chairperson

Enacted by legislation passed in the 2010 legislative session, the Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact met for the first time on October 2, 2013 to elect leadership and receive an update on a rail feasibility study underway for the New Orleans to Baton Rouge corridor. Officers to the Rail Compact were named: Chairperson – New Orleans City Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer, Vice-Chair – Cornelius Lewis, Baton Rouge appointee and Secretary/Treasurer – Ryland Percy, Ascension Parish appointee.

“This historic convening of leaders across the super-region signals this project is moving forward. This Compact is dedicated to realizing the immense economic vitality that passenger rail can spark in our region. Our two great cities are already the economic engine for our state, but with more regional connectivity, we can emerge as an epicenter for growth nationwide,” said Kristin Gisleson Palmer, New Orleans District “C” City Councilmember.

Act #858, passed in the 2010 Legislative session, authorized the creation of a Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact with the goals of developing and improving an efficient, safe and well-maintained system of rail and other transit ways. Vice-Chair Cornelius Lewis stated, “With the growing number of jobs in the super-region, the Rail Compact represents a unique partnership with leaders from multiple municipalities joined together toward a common regional project that will provide an efficient and safe means of travel between our growing metros.”

The CONNECT Coalition has been conducting research and outreach along the corridor to facilitate the formation of the Compact.

The Compact is currently comprised of representatives from municipalities Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Jefferson and Ascension parishes coming together as the initial members. It is anticipated that other parishes along the corridor can join in appointing members at a later date.

The efforts of the Rail Compact will complement previous efforts of the Southern Rail Commission, which was formed by representatives from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi to engage public and private organizations with rail interests and support rail initiatives across the Southeast US.

Rep. Walt Leger III is also an appointee to the Rail Compact and served as former chair of the Southern Rail Commission and State Representative from District 91. He said, “We have to make smart infrastructure investments to ensure future prosperity for our state and our region. By promoting and encouraging safe, reliable, efficient movement of people and goods between our cities, we can measurably grow the economies along the rail corridors and become a leader in connectivity and intrastate synergy.”

To learn more about the Rail Compact and CONNECT, click here.

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LA Swift Discontinued, Need for Regional Connectivity Remains

The Louisiana Department of Transportation announced that the La Swift bus service connecting the Baton Rouge – New Orleans regional corridor will end operations on July 31. The federal funding that has supported the service since its inception in 2005 is now contingent upon a local match.  The Center for Planning Excellence, along with other CONNECT members, worked diligently to locate potential sources of funding and in-kind contributions to satisfy the match requirements, but the package submitted by the Louisiana Department of Transportation was ultimately rejected by the Federal Transportation Administration.  Though the La Swift bus will no longer run, CPEX and the CONNECT Coalition will continue to work with its partners and allies to educate decisionmakers on the need to fund multi-modal transit options and pursue opportunities to expand connectivity throughout the super region.  More from  the Advocate about the end of La Swift here.

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Small victory is big news for LA SWIFT riders

The Center for Planning Excellence is pleased to learn the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has announced a one-month extension of the LA SWIFT bus service to allow local groups the opportunity to formalize a plan for the takeover of the local transit service, continuing the service through July 31.

Click here to read the article from The Advocate.

DOTD previously announced the service would end on June 30. After learning LA SWIFT was slated to cease operation, CPEX, along with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Greater New Orleans, Inc. and CONNECT Coalition partners, began working toward solutions to save this valuable service.

CPEX helped identify and secure commitments for the resources needed to meet federal requirements for a local match. Thanks to CATS, the Mayor of Kenner, and other media sponsors for contributing in-kind match amounts that help close the gap.  In-kind services will provide a revenue-neutral solution to keep the federal funding in place. This impressive collective effort of diverse stakeholders represents widespread support for the LA SWIFT service and increased regional connectivity in general.

LA SWIFT serves nearly 12,000 riders each month who rely on the service to reach destinations between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

A survey conducted by CPEX, Ride New Orleans and AARP showed that LA SWIFT is important for several reasons:

51% of the ridership depends on the service to get to and from work

14% rely on the service to access healthcare

Daily commutes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge – in both directions – are increasing steadily

Click here to see the full survey.

A recent study by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center showed in 2010, more than 26,000 workers commuted on a daily basis from the Baton Rouge metro to the New Orleans metro, while an additional 22,000 workers commuted in the opposite direction, making our super region a place where “labor is pooled, and innovation and production is concentrated.”

In order to promote growth and the economic health of the super region and our state, we must commit to preserving and expanding connectivity between homes, job centers and essential services. We are thrilled to be a part of preserving this critical transit option!

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Ending LA SWIFT bus service will leave thousands without a viable transit option in the growing Baton Rouge-New Orleans super region

On Friday, the State Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) announced they would not renew the LA SWIFT bus service contract at the end of June. LA SWIFT provides critical inter-city bus service between the New Orleans and Baton Rouge metropolitan areas. Started in 2006 as a post-Katrina recovery transportation service to help displaced residents rebuild their homes and livelihoods, it has transformed into an essential transit connection carrying more than 12,000 riders monthly.

In April, Ride New Orleans, AARP Louisiana and the Center for Planning Excellence surveyed more than 300 LA SWIFT riders to reveal what the human and economic impacts of the loss of this service would mean for our region.

That survey showed:

51% of riders use the service to access their jobs in critical industries like healthcare and social assistance, construction, hospitality and educational services

44% of riders use the service to visit family and friends

14% of riders use the service to access healthcare services

More than half of riders are willing to pay a higher fare than the $5 it currently costs to ride LA SWIFT

One-third of riders come from households without a car making the LA SWIFT service essential to accessing their jobs

The CONNECT Coalition has been working towards more super-regional transit connectivity, which is critical to our future economic regional competitiveness. Rather than cut LA SWIFT service, we propose investing in fully transitioning what started as a recovery transit connection into a system that connects our universities, medical campuses and job centers.

To view a summary of the LA SWIFT survey, click here.

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Complete Streets = Better Blocks

Designing roadways with all users in mind certainly makes sense from a safety standpoint, but why else?  As a policy priority of CONNECT, why are so many diverse advocates and groups pushing so hard for sidewalks, bike lanes and landscaping?  For the 2,500 people who experienced April 13th’s Better Block BR Government Street demonstration, the answers to these questions were clear. Though bike lanes and sidewalks might in concept seem like the types of amenities used by a few die-hard cycling and pedestrian enthusiasts, or those without access to a vehicle, Saturday’s Better Block demonstration showed what a catalyst this kind of infrastructure can be for creating neighborhood vitality, successful small businesses, healthy lifestyles and diverse communities.  By passing Complete Streets policies and implementing Complete Streets design concepts, residents not only have new modes of mobility, but also new venues for community, opportunities for public art, spaces for activities and conversations, and often a new neighborhood profile.  To learn more about this amazing event, click here>

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CONNECT’s Medical District Policy Forum

With the evolving medical districts underway in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metros, the southeast Louisiana super region is positioned to be a world-class healthcare destination. To widen the conversation around this workforce and economic development opportunity, CONNECT hosted the leaders of the super region’s leading medical institutions at Xavier University on February 20th to discuss the long-term possibilities for connectivity between campuses and leveraging of resources to create and sustain the local economy.  View the final report from this Medical District Policy Forum and learn more about this exciting event here>

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Where do we stand?

As the state of Louisiana embarks on the latest update of the Statewide Transportation Plan, the CONNECT Coalitions’ Steering Committee is looking forward to its role on one of the plan’s Advisory Committees.  To prepare for this position and explain our advocacy efforts around the plan thus far, CONNECT has issued a position paper on the plan outlining our transit, passenger rail, bicycle and pedestrian priorities, as well as highlighting a few of the partnerships we encourage DOTD to create to best leverage its investments.  Download our Position Paper here and read more about the Statewide Transportation Plan update and CONNECT’s involvement here>

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