The wheels are turning on a plan to bring a passenger rail stop to Ascension Parish.
City officials Wednesday unveiled designs for a new train station that would open in Gonzales should a long-awaited commuter line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge materialize.
The renderings depict a 300-foot platform, an enclosed waiting area, passenger parking, sidewalks and bike paths linking to businesses along East Ascension and North Boullion avenues. Officials also hope the train stop will anchor new restaurants, retail and parks nearby.
“If all this comes to be, it’ll bring civic pride to Gonzales,” said Ryan Burns, a senior rail systems engineer at the international firm Arup. “This is a place you’re going to see — wow — this community really has it together.”
Arup crafted the plan with the New Orleans-based firm WDG-Architects Engineers and Fort Worth-based Freese and Nichols. The City of Gonzales paid $100,000 for the designs.
The transit hub would occupy land that the city bought in 2015. Planners at Arup believe the platform and station would cost $5.8 million to erect.
Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux hopes the project will help dislodge congestion along Interstate 10.
“You guys know yourself how hard it is to get into Baton Rouge or New Orleans,” he told reporters Wednesday. “One day you might go right through it, but the next day it might take you an hour-and-a-half. It makes no sense.”
City officials argue the congestion has worsened as more people move into Ascension Parish. Between 2010 and 2015, its population grew from roughly 107,000 to 119,000. Arceneaux owes the spike to the parish’s even location between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
We’re one of the fastest growing parishes in the state, and we want to grow along with it,” he said.
Merchants along downtown Gonzales say the station’s presence would help lure new clientele.
“It’s a perfect location to have a jumping off point,” said Adam Howell, who runs the Horn of Plenty health food store.
“I think they should go full speed ahead,” said Ricardo Dubois, who owns Dubois Winery on Ascension Street. “I’d like to see it in my lifetime.”
Southern Rail Commission Chairman John Spain says the $260 million commuter rail — and the Gonzales station — could hit the ground within a few years, with roughly $300 million in federal funds available.
“This state needs a mix of transportation opportunities,” he said. “It needs to look at rail as another way of moving people efficiently and very quickly.”
Gonzales would host one of seven stations along the 80-mile route between downtown Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Other stops would include suburban Baton Rouge, LaPlace, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and Jefferson Parish.
Renderings by Arup, provided by City of Gonzales: