The Idaho Department of Public Lands will hold meetings next week on a proposed second railroad bridge across Lake Pend Orielle in Sandpoint, Idaho, that BNSF Railway says will improve the flow of freight and passenger traffic through northern Idaho.
The bridge is in the permitting process, BNSF said during a May 14 conference call.
The second bridge and mainline track would parallel the current rail bridge. The new line would “improve and modernize” the region’s rail network, moderator Jocelyn McCabe said during the call.
The two public hearings on the bridge plan will be on May 23. The first will be at 8 a.m. Pacific time at the Ponderay Events Center in Ponderay, Idaho. The second will be at 6 p.m. Pacific time in the Sandpoint Middle School gym.
The railroad currently has a single-track bridge over the lake said Courtney Wallace, regional director of public affairs for BNSF in Washington state. The second, parallel bridge would allow more efficient flow of freight and passenger rail over the bridge, she said.
BNSF is also proposing two new bridges, over Sand Creek and Bridge Street in Sandpoint.
Currently, several tracks merge into a single lane at both ends of the bridge, creating congestion, Wallace said. Trains must wait on each side of the bridge, creating a backup for traffic to and from Idaho, Washington and Montana.
“This project will help with the volumes we’re currently managing, and it sets us up for success in the future in case traffic continues to grow as the population continues to grow,” Wallace said.
“Congestion relief, private investment and safety improvements — it doesn’t get any better than that,” said John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau.
The added bridge allows movement of goods from the Midwest through the state and through the ports, he said.
“We’re always looking for those improvements to the network to make sure we can get it there better, faster, cheaper,” Stuhlmiller said.
Bonner County Commissioner Glen Bailey said a second bridge would facilitate trade in the region.
“In my opinion, we can’t build this bridge fast enough,” he said. “It needs to be done as quickly as possible, safely and environmentally safe. I see this as a big positive in helping ship goods and keeping our economy moving.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and IDL are the lead agencies, Wallace said.
In 2017, about 25 percent of the trains through Sandpoint carried agricultural goods, Wallace said. BNSF does not provide train numbers.
One train can replace 280 trucks on the road, Wallace noted.
Construction will last three years, but dates and times are to be determined by the permitting process, Wallace said.