New BNSF bridge would ease congestion and benefit trade in PNW

By Commissioner Glen Bailey
Reader Contributor

Last spring, BNSF Railway announced it would be moving forward on a proposal to add a second rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint. Simply put, we have a bottleneck that must be resolved along this major trade route for the Northwest, and for all of us who benefit from it.

This is, first and foremost, a free commerce issue. The railroads are here to facilitate trade in this region.  The project will provide a second mainline track across the lake that would run adjacent to the existing rail bridge. Doing so would increase capacity for what has become a vital link between communities stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Midwest, and the family-wage jobs that come with it.

Commissioner Glen Bailey.

Each day, BNSF trains carry thousands of products that we use in our everyday lives: Food, medicine, equipment and household goods.  This expansion is needed to ensure those goods continue to reach markets both here at home, in the Northwest, and all over the world. Without it, our economy will be negatively impacted, along with our quality of life. Creating additional capacity will help decrease our bottleneck that slows the transport of goods.

It should be noted the proposed rail upgrades will help manage train traffic to minimize crossing delays and lower the impacts in surrounding communities. The new line will result in shorter wait times on nearby roads and streets that cross BNSF tracks. Obviously safety is a top priority for a major company like BNSF, and they are willing to spend millions to support their safety efforts.

Because railroads have become the most efficient means of moving freight by land, we often forget that a good portion of the commodities carried by rail might otherwise be shipped on our highways. I can’t imagine how many semi-trucks would have to cross the Long Bridge if BNSF doesn’t find a way to increase it’s rail capacity. Shippers will need to find new ways to get their goods to market, and that likely means putting them on semi-trucks. On average, trains are four times more efficient than trucks, so we would do better investing in rail infrastructure than adding to the traffic congestion on our highways.

Finally, BNSF is actively taking steps to protect our natural environment.  The railroad has worked with our county Emergency Management team to create a detailed geographic response plan that identified environmentally sensitive areas like Lake Pend Oreille and the Kootenai River and is committed to the priority actions needed to protect those areas.

I would encourage readers to take a careful look at BNSF’s proposal and what it means not just for our community, but for the entire region. We just can’t ignore that we are a primary trade route in the western United States. Infrastructure investments are crucial to encourage growth and support trade in the Pacific Northwest. This project represents a significant business investment to modernize the rail network. It will impact everything in our daily lives: food, medicine, consumer goods and more.

Rail remains the lifeblood of Idaho’s trade-based economy. Ignoring the need for growth in our trade infrastructure would be irresponsible and shortsighted. It could hamstring us competitively, impacting key industries like manufacturing and agriculture. Last but not least don’t forget the jobs – and tax revenue – that come when business rolls on.

Glen Bailey served on the board of the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation and is Chairman of Board of the Bonner County Commissioner.

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