BNSF Railway has proposed to build a second rail line that would run over Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho to help prevent congestion on the current one-lane bridge.
Proponents of the project say it will bolster the movement of goods through the Pacific Northwest and Montana and increase efficiency by allowing trains to move in both directions across the lake instead of pulling over to the side and waiting. The seamless rail movement would also benefit businesses and industries looking to receive products as cheaply and quickly as possible.
The project would add a bridge parallel to the current one, which would allow for a more efficient flow of freight and passenger rail over the bridge, according to Courtney Wallace, Director of Public Affairs for BNSF Railway.
According to the project’s website, BNSF submitted its permitting documents in Dec. 2017 and the company is currently working with project lead agencies, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers as the proposal advances.
“It will allow the opportunity that goods we use every day are getting to their destination in a more efficient manner,” Wallace said during Keep Washington Competitive’s (KWC) May 14 tele-briefing on the project.
Currently, trains must wait on either side of the bridge while one train passes, which can cause a backup, and therefore a ripple effect into eastern Washington and Montana.
“This project will help with the volumes of goods currently being managed and sets us up for success in the future if traffic continues to grow.”
The project also has a stake in providing wages and jobs for local workers. According to Wallace, these employees living in Idaho make a combined payroll of $24 million per year.
“The railroads are here to facilitate trade in our region,” said Glen Bailey, Bonner County Commissioner. “This project will improve what has become a vital link between the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest, and family-wage jobs in between.”
He added that the additional bridge would decrease the bottleneck that slows the movements of goods including food, medicine and household products.
“The expansion is needed to ensure goods are reaching markets here in the Northwest and all over the world. Without it, our economy and quality of life would be negatively impacted.
“We can’t build this bridge fast enough, while being quick and as environmentally safe as possible.”
John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau (WFB) told call participants the project offers “congestion relief, private investment and safety improvement; it doesn’t get better than that.”
He added that WFB is most concerned about moving goods – agricultural products in particular – across the Midwest and through Washington state and its ports.
“It’s important to us to have farm-to-market access, which includes all methods of delivery in our world-class state. We are championing the improvements and are pleased with what is being done to upgrade the system.”
Stuhlmiller added that WFB supports the project’s focus on congestion relief and safety enhancements. “We need to continue to move to a faster, better network to keep up with the demands on that system to keep providing food and fiber for the world.”
There are two public hearings on the project scheduled for May 23: A morning session at the Ponderay Events Center in Ponderay, Idaho at 8 a.m. Pacific and an afternoon hearing at the Sandpoint Middle School gym at 6 p.m.
“We are excited to see the project go through the permitting process,” said Wallace. “There is a value for BNSF and our customers because it helps reduce waiting and helps us all get the goods we like every day.”