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At last night’s Ascension Parish Council meeting, the concept of the Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact was brought up for discussion (for additional info on what else was discussed at the Council meeting, read here). The Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact was devised as Act 858 during the 2010 Legislative Session, and will look at a commuter rail system designed to link the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. Rachel DiResto, from the Center for Planning Excellence, was introduced by Councilwoman Teri Casso and spoke of the parish adopting a resolution to join the Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact and appoint members to the board.

After DiResto’s presentation, it was decided that councilman Travis Turner, Attorney Ryland Percy, Ascension Parish businessman Joe Waguespack and Councilwoman Teri Casso would be appointed to serve on the board, which will begin meeting in early March, along with board members from New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It is expected that a number of other cities will appoint members as well. Both New Orleans and Baton Rouge have put up small amounts of money to conduct a feasibility study, which will be used as a guide at meetings between all parties.

It’s not a bad idea. Ascension Parish is a hub of commuter traffic for the two areas. The main goal of the rail system would be to take the more than 50,000 commuters travelling along via I-10 or Airline Highway every day off the roads to ease congestion. Other goals include connecting people, jobs and resources in an efficient way by creating a safe, reliable rail system. Here are a few reasons why it would benefit Ascension Parish:

1. Business – It would allow the ever-expanding suburban population that is stretching south from Baton Rouge into Ascension Parish to quickly and efficiently commute into downtown.

2. Leisure – The rail line would be beneficial for Parish residents who have to travel into New Orleans for the day for business or leisure. Also, when New Orleans hosts large events (Mardi Gras, Super Bowl, etc.), it will be much more convenient to stay outside of the city because you can hop on a train to get to and from the parades, festivals, conferences, etc.

However, the rail line could be detrimental to the state of Louisiana, especially the taxpayers.

1. Governor Bobby Jindal  In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration said it would not pursue $300 million in federal funds to help launch passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Jindal’s administration has said the project would be too costly to build and maintain (read more here).

2. Estimated number of riders – Even though the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metro regions account for 44 percent of the state’s population, the critical mass to make rail travel sustainable has not yet been reached. “The number of people estimated to ride this train is a very small number, certainly compared to what travels the road,” said Loren Scott, a retired LSU economist.

2. Money – The study also noted that with four daily trips, the train would operate at an annual deficit of $14.8 million, with that amount growing to $18.3 million in 2018 when the train increases service.

Of course, there are always pros and cons with any project of this magnitude. The rail project already faces stiff reality checks from opponents. But it also represents a potential economic opportunity that could have a significant impact in Ascension. Our parish leaders have made a positive step in the right direction in regards to the future of Ascension by agreeing to participate in the Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact. Whether it comes to fruition or not, it can only benefit our region to consider all options, great or small.

What are your thoughts on the Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact?