By Cameron Rasmusson
The Idaho Department of Lands has approved BNSF’s proposal for a second rail bridge, clearing one step in the path to full approval.
It’s a win for the BNSF project designed to expand train traffic capacity in Sandpoint, but the rail bridge still has more government permits to obtain before it’s cleared for construction. The approval was announced by IDL officials Friday following IDL Acting Director David Groeschl final order to approve the project the previous day.
The final order follows a public hearing held by IDL in Sandpoint on May 23. That meeting resulted in a preliminary order by the hearing officer to approve the second rail bridge. The approval clears BNSF under the terms of the Idaho Lake Protection Act, which “regulates encroachments and activities on, in or above the navigable lakes in Idaho, including Lake Pend Oreille.”
The second rail bridge is pitched by BNSF officials as a means to reduce train congestion by expanding the company’s options to route trains. If approved by all permitting agencies, it will be built adjacent to and west of the existing rail bridge across Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek.
The proposal has attracted vocal supporters and opponents alike. Supporters credit BNSF Railway with putting freight shipments on rails that would otherwise be trucked on the highways. They argue that since market demands determine the overall volume of shipments, the second bridge is necessary to avoid insufferable delays at rail crossings. Opponents, on the other hand, worry that the second bridge is opening the door for more rail-related inconveniences. Conservation groups also point to train derailments spilling hazardous materials as a catastrophe made more likely in Sandpoint by a second bridge.