A pedestrian crosses the street at the intersection of Scenic Highway and Harding Boulevard near Southern University on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. MOVEBR is moving forward with its Scenic Highway Corridor Improvements Project, which will improve sidewalks to improve walkability and pedestrian safety near the university.
Baton Rouge officials are moving forward with a multimillion-dollar infrastructure project to improve pedestrian safety and local business accessibility at the entrance of Southern University’s campus.
The Scenic Highway Corridor Improvement Project, a part of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s “MOVEBR” initiative, seeks to improve sidewalks and build a railroad crossing gate to bolster pedestrian safety and assist local businesses to the tune of $7 million.
The project is one of 71 planned under Broome’s billion-dollar, 30-year “MOVEBR” initiative to fix downfalls in Baton Rouge’s infrastructure, funded through a half-cent sales tax that started in 2019.
The proposed changes span from Harding Boulevard to Swan Avenue, a 1,600-foot stretch along the eastern edge of Southern University’s campus sprinkled with local Black-owned businesses.
“This is one of the few projects that I see out here that fits in well with the university and provides the opportunity for the students to interact with the business community, eateries, things like that — that for me is critical,” said Baton Rouge Transportation Director Fred Raiford III.
In its current state, the segment of Scenic Highway is lined with inconsistent, narrow sidewalks adjacent to the road. The northbound lane’s sidewalk fizzles out into gravel before intersecting with a railroad crossing, which lacks a crossing gate to keep motorists out of incoming trains’ paths.
Once improvements are complete, Scenic Highway will feature 8-foot sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists, separated from the road by 3½ feet of greenery and lit with upgraded street lamps, according to MOVEBR design concepts. Other changes to the road include improved drainage and access point management.
Ken Dawson, Southern University’s director of facilities planning, said the project incorporates elements of Southern University’s 2021 master plan, which suggested changes that would attract more students and Baton Rouge residents to the area.
“One thing that the university has always been focused on doing was not just making it a student experience but making it a community experience — an experience that will bring people in outside of just the university gates and letting the community enjoy aspects of the university as well,” Dawson said.
The road’s current condition has contributed to dangerous outcomes for some pedestrians — in 2018, a 49-year-old man was struck by a train at the crossing on Scenic near Swan Avenue but survived.
Then last year, Southern University student Q’Ryon Williams, 18, was killed in a hit-and-run on Scenic Highway just south of Harding Boulevard.
Following Williams’ death, Southern University officials discussed possible avenues for improving safety on Scenic Highway, with suggestions ranging from additional signage to the creation of a skywalk over the intersection with Harding.
“[The MOVEBR project] would definitely make it more convenient for the students as far as walking,” said Vic Smith, owner of Empire Wingz restaurant. “Most of the businesses are right there before you get to Southern. A lot of students don’t have cars, so feeling safe when you walk is always a plus.”
Construction on the roadway is expected to start in Spring 2024, according to Raiford.
“The project was initiated over several asks over the last 12 years,” District 2 Councilwoman Chauna Banks said. “I’m just glad that due to the funding of MOVEBR, this project, along with several others, are going to be realized.”
Banks’ district has a total of six projects under the initiative for a collective estimated cost of $84.3 million, according to the MOVEBR project list.
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