BNSF Rail Bridge Expansion
Lake Pend Oreille | Pend Oreille River
Sandpoint Junction Connector Project
Three new rail bridges over and adjacent to Lake Pend Oreille will facilitate a significant increase in rail traffic through Sandpoint and beyond. Rail traffic is expected to increase to 114 trains per day (from 58 per day now) by 2025.
According to BNSF’s joint permit application to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), “Rail traffic volumes have risen steadily for the past three decades.”
While BNSF has stated that these new bridges will reduce wait times at grade crossings, this is flawed logic. Due to our lack of grade separated crossings (underpasses or overpasses) in Sandpoint, a significant increase in rail traffic will cause gates to remain down. Trains may be moving (which is a main objective of the project), but safety gates will be down.
This project has obvious implications for traffic and emergency response delays, but there are broader implications as well. Increased transport of hazardous materials adjacent to and over the lake, such as volatile crude oil, can have serious effect on water quality in the event of a derailment and spill. More trains will also result in more noise and air pollution from blowing whistles and diesel emissions.
Our local economy also stands to suffer as a result of the impacts listed above.
- BNSF will need to obtain permits from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), USACE and IDL (issued). USCG is acting as the lead federal agency and has the authority to issue or deny permits for bridges over navigable waterways of the U.S. under the General Bridge Act of 1946.
- USCG is acting as the lead agency for environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
- USCG is also acting as the lead agency overseeing compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Endangered Species Act.
- USACE is charged with granting or denying a permit for discharging dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States.
- IDL is charged with granting or denying a permit for encroachments, which are anything permanently fixed to the lakebed.
- IDL has issued an encroachment permit for this project.
Key Project Activities
- A new mainline track west of the existing BNSF mainline track.
- A new bridge over Lake Pend Oreille adjacent to (approx. 50 ft. west of) the existing rail bridge.
- A new bridge over Sand Creek adjacent to (approx. 35 ft. west of) the existing rail bridge.
- A new bridge over Bridge Street adjacent to (approx. 15-20 ft. est of) the existing rail bridge.
- Temporary construction bridges over Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek.
- Temporary construction – material/equipment staging areas.
Overall immediate impacts are expected to be .88 acres of permanent nearshore fill and .28 acres of permanent wetland fill.
- U.S. Coast Guard – Pending
- Army Corps – Pending
- Idaho Dept. Lands – Issued
Navigation & Environmental Review
The Coast Guard (USCG) has the authority to issue or deny permits for bridges over navigable waterways of the U.S. The public comment period regarding navigation around the proposed bridges over Sand Creek and Lake Pend Oreille closed on January 18th.
You can read the Public Notices here.
If you have questions related to navigation at either location, we suggest you contact:
Thirteenth Coast Guard District
USCG is acting as the lead federal agency with respect to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The agency decided to proceed with an Environmental Assessment (EA).
An EA is prepared when the impact of a proposed project on the environment is not clearly understood. The EA describes the extent and level of environmental impact. The document will either support a “Finding of No Significance” (FONSI) or indicate that an EIS is warranted.
LPOW has strongly advocated for a full EIS and will continue to do so.
Your generous support helps sustain drinkable, fishable, swimmable waters throughout the beautiful Clark Fork/Pend Oreille watershed, for today and many years to come.
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