The U.S. Coast Guard has approved the construction of a pair of rail bridges that will span Lake Pend Oreille and Sand Creek in northern Idaho.
BNSF wants to build the structures, which will run parallel to an existing rail bridge. The U.S. Coast Guard’s environmental assessment determined the two new spans would not negatively impact the bodies of water. Some officials and residents wanted the U.S. Coast Guard to issue an Environmental Impact Statement, which would have been a deeper analysis of the spans’ effect on the lake and surrounding area. Many are concerned about the increase in crude oil and hazardous materials crossing the bridges. The state of Idaho, which has the final say in terms of the lake bottom, already gave the project the green light.
BNSF needs the new rail line. According to the Class 1 railroad company, the tracks play a vital role in transporting goods and materials eastbound and westbound. The need for an additional two bridges is because a bottleneck forms when trains have to wait to cross the one existing bridge. Some of the trains are a mile long and can block road intersections. There is an average of 79 trains crossing the span daily.
Lake Pend Oreille is the largest lake in Idaho, and the Idaho Conservation League is wondering how the two new rail bridges will effect what it calls the “crown jewel of the Gem State.” Federal officials believe the improved alignment will not cause an increase in rail traffic.
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