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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

BNSF to move ahead with second Sandpoint rail bridge; opposition voiced by mayor

FILE - A train crosses Lake Pend Oreille as it leaves Sandpoint, Idaho on Tuesday, September 16, 2014. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

BNSF Railway Co. said it is moving ahead with a second railroad bridge across Lake Pend Oreille at Sandpoint, while the city’s mayor voiced opposition.

BNSF said it had been considering building the second bridge to get shipments moving more quickly through the region.

The railroad initiated planning for the project in 2014 but put the work on hold.

“Bringing it forward now allows us to adequately handle current and future rail traffic,” a news release from BNSF said.

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad said he was surprised the proposal has resurfaced.

He said there is a lot of community concern about rail safety, especially with increased shipping of coal and crude oil along with chemical shipments.

“It’s hard to say the benefits will outweigh the costs,” Rognstad said.

Hazardous cargo “is always a concern for the community …” he said.

BNSF said that in addition to rail freight moving more efficiently, motor-vehicle traffic will see fewer delays at crossings blocked by trains waiting to use the bridge.

“This is the equivalent to adding a lane on a highway. It allows for a more fluid flow of current traffic,” BNSF said.

The Sandpoint Junction Connector project will add needed capacity to the rail system now and into the future, the company said.

Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF, said the bridge is a proposal that still must go through a review and permitting process.

Rognstad said the bridge crossing leaves the lake and Pend Oreille River at risk of serious pollution.

He said hunks of coal from uncovered rail cars have been found along the tracks and in the lake.

The mayor said Sandpoint will continue to be active in improving rail safety.

As part of the project planning, BNSF will drive pilings into the lake to test load-bearing capacities.

The testing is expected to start in May and extend through June.

“BNSF will have security fencing around its property on Dog Beach for safety reasons while the work is occurring,” the news release said.

“Access to Dog Beach may be reduced during this time.”

No other construction is planned in 2017. BNSF did not specify the cost of the project.