SANDPOINT — Bike path users are likely to see a tunnel near Dog Beach in the future.
Bonner County commissioners were scheduled to meet with BNSF Railway and Idaho Transportation Department officials on Tuesday to discuss the dual-purpose facility, which would afford BNSF construction access to its property directly from U.S. Highway 95 at the north end of the Long Bridge.
The tunnel would also preserve the current alignment of the bike and pedestrian path linking Sandpoint and Sagle, said Bonner County Road & Bridge Director Steve Klatt.
“What they’re proposing to do is put in a tunnel similar to what we put under the Bottle Bay Road,” Klatt said of the railroad’s plans.
Construction traffic would go over the top of the tunnel, while cyclists and pedestrians would pass through below.
“They would have a right-in/right-out access point there and then the bike path would stay where it’s at,” Klatt said
The project would shift slightly to the south a traditional construction access point directly off the highway, where there is a barricaded break in the guardrail. It was used during construction of the Sand Creek Byway and during ongoing efforts by BNSF to bolster the existing railroad bridge across the lake.
The project’s cost is being borne entirely by BNSF, Klatt said. Bonner County is looped in because it is a maintaining partner of the bike path, which is on ITD right of way.
“It’s no small undertaking,” Klatt said of the tunnel.
Klatt said construction of the new tunnel could take place this year, based on BNSF’s plans.
The construction access point is being proposed as BNSF seeks permit approval for a new bridge across the lake, which includes smaller ancillary bridges.
The Idaho Department of Lands granted an encroachment permit for the new bridges last year, although that approval is being challenged in 1st District Court by Wild Idaho Rising Tide, a North Idaho environmental group. The U.S. Coast Guard, meanwhile, is hosting public hearings in Ponderay on March 13. They are set for 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Ponderay Events Center.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.