BNSF says bridge over lake is safe

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SANDPOINT — A BNSF Railway official took aim Monday at rumors surrounding rail development projects in Bonner County.

BSNF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace disputed claims that the 103-year-old span across Lake Pend Oreille is grossly underbuilt and cannot handle the increased weight of trains that regularly trundle across it.

“That’s actually so far from the truth,” Wallace told members of the Sandpoint Kiwanis Club at Tango Café.

Wallace said work is currently being done on the bridge to replace concrete and added that bridge and structural engineers inspect the bridge at least twice a year using articulated bucket rigs. Track inspectors, meanwhile, conduct more routine checks, she added.

“They’re looking at every square inch of that bridge. We also have a contract out with divers who’ll go down and look at the piers themselves,” Wallace said.

Wallace suspected the bridge rumor was put together by opponents of the proposed second bridge that would parallel the original span.

“That bridge is in great condition,” she said.

BSNF is proposing the second bridge to alleviate a rail traffic choke point on the existing bridge, which forces trains to idle while other trains cross the bridge. The Idaho Department of Lands granted an encroachment permit for the new bridge last month.

But opponents of the second bridge have filed a petition for judicial review in 1st District Court. Wild Idaho Rising Tide argues the second span would exacerbate climate change through added oil and coal shipments. WIRT also maintains that another bridge would increase the likelihood of a catastrophic spill, which would damage water quality and wildlife habitat, threaten a source of the city’s drinking water and dim recreational values.

The estimated cost of the bridge is expected to exceed $100 million and could be ready for use by 2024 or 2025.

“For us, this project is crucial,” said Wallace.

Wallace also addressed a rumor about the double-tracking project in Cocolalla, specifically that environmental groups were able to halt that project.

“The environmentalists have not shut us down,” Wallace said.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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