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.

    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.

    Project News & Updates

    January 2020: Work on the bike path tunnel continues. Pouring footings for the tunnel and starting placement of nearshore fill material has been completed. Upcoming work will include setting the new tunnel and starting the in-water work in Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek.

    November 2019: BNSF received final permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Sandpoint Junction Connector Project.

    September 2019: Upland work began on railroad property that lies between Sand Creek and Dog Beach, including roadway work for site access located off the highway, temporary and permanent trail construction to ensure that the bike path can be used throughout construction, and clearing areas for new trail construction and bridge approaches.

    BNSF map of the Sandpoint Junction Connector Project

    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.

    If you have questions related to navigation at either location, we suggest you contact:

    Steven Fischer
    Thirteenth Coast Guard District

    Environmental Review
    USCG is acting as the lead federal agency with respect to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The agency issued the final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for BNSF Railway’s Sandpoint Junction Connector Project.

    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.

    LPOW has strongly advocated for a full EIS and will continue to do so.

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