NEW ORLEANS, La. – The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) recently awarded a three-year, $4.8 million rail/roadway engineering and environmental services contract for the New Orleans Rail Gateway (NORG), the fourth largest rail gateway in the nation, to Michael Baker Jr., Inc.
The company will provide travel forecasting, rail and roadway engineering, and a complete range of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental and public outreach services required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) to modernize the entire 35-mile freight rail system through the New Orleans metropolitan area.
"This project helps to position Louisiana for future growth by providing increased efficiency in moving goods across our state and nation and also improves safety for our citizens in this corridor by limiting rail interaction with densely populated areas," DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas said. "Further, it is a unique collaborative endeavor which highlights our private partners’ commitment to the state and its infrastructure."
The project is a public-private partnership (P3) between the Federal Railroad Administration, DOTD, the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (RPC), six Class I railroads (NS, KCS, CSX, UP, BNSF, and CN) and the Association of American Railroads. Amtrak, the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, and the Port of New Orleans are also stakeholders in the project. A comprehensive public involvement plan will facilitate information exchange between the public and P3 participants.
"The Regional Planning Commission [RPC] is enthusiastic to partner with the P3 group of stakeholders to move forward with the NEPA process," said Walter Brooks, RPC executive director. "It will assist in making progress towards implementing a program of projects that help achieve long term goals to reduce the number of choke points and grade crossing incidents, while leveraging regional economic vitality associated with freight and passenger rail.
Because Louisiana offers a low cost and dependable connection to a large segment of the country’s population, maritime commerce thrives in the state, therefore – according to Senator Conrad Appel – the state has to constantly fight to maintain its competitive edge in order to prosper, and modernizing and maintaining efficient rail connectivity is critical in that effort.
"The high quality jobs derived from International Trade are wholly dependent upon the efficient movement of goods through Louisiana’s ports. The single most important link in that chain is an efficient rail system," said Appel. "I salute the DOTD for its foresight in understanding the importance of International Trade and the critical nature of rail transportation. This project will go a long way in ensuring Louisiana’s position as a world class gateway well into the future."
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is committed to delivering transportation and public works systems that enhance the quality of life. In addition to more than 16,600 miles of roadway, including over 890 miles of interstate, the Department supports the development of the state’s aviation, marine and rail infrastructures. Through this work, it is able to facilitate economic development, create job opportunities, improve vital evacuation routes, and make critical freight corridors safer and more efficient.