- Benson Road Siding - Completed
- Phillips Ave. Extension - Completed
- Paisley Park Underpass - Completed
Phase IV is working on an agreement between Burlington Northern and the city regarding eliminating grade crossings throughout Sioux Falls. In 2008 the 57th Street grade crossing was eliminated with the construction of a bridge over 57th Street. The 69th Street Bridge will be completed in August 2011. This phase will look at potential future crossings throughout the city.
The meat of the Master Plan, however, is Phases II and III dealing with the downtown rail relocation. It appears the sticking point in this project is the environmental assessment. The Feds appropriated $40 million for this project in 2006 and there is something like $38 million remaining in the allocation. This money is not sitting in a city account. The money remains with the Feds through the FHA who will authorize the release of the funds when the city signs a contract related to the project.
Councilor Jamison asked if this was a city project and the reply was yes with reservation. It was stated that the Environmental Assessment is the key to getting the federal dollars. If this was purely a city project funded with city funds, there would be no need to do the EA.
City staff is currently working on the Environmental Assessment which entails multiple design meetings to identify feasible alternatives and meetings with the major stakeholders. It is taking a long time to make progress on the Environmental Assessment.
It is also taking a long time to determine what sites are feasible so the EA can get rolling. The past sites identified as feasible were:
- Rice Street Corridor between Sioux Falls and Brandon
- Ellis & Eastern Mainline yard
- Downtown Y connector alternative for NE and NW lines - 2nd bridge across the river in Falls Park
- Modification of the existing bridge across the river in Falls Park (this alternative has since been crossed off the list because it is no longer a feasible option.)
Councilors expressed some concerns/questions regarding this new alternative. I was glad to hear their concerns considering the city is thinking about moving the main switching line to the residential southeast area of Sioux Falls which is a growing residential area.
If you live in the central or southeast part of Sioux Falls, then you are familiar with the trains that travel the Canton line into Sioux Falls. These trains travel this line at all times of the day and night but they especially create havoc when they move through town around 7:30 or 8 a.m. or close to quitting time at work. It's nice that there is bridge over 57th Street but those trains have to travel over the 49th Street grade crossing, the 26th Street grade crossing, the 14th Street grade crossing and the Cliff Ave. grade crossing on it's way to the downtown rail yard at 8th Street. The traffic disruption when those street crossings are cut off is atrocious and has a major impact on the eastside.
A switch yard on the Canton line in southeast Sioux Falls would now mean the train traffic will double what it is today. Instead of switching in downtown as they do today, the trains from all the quadrants would have to travel through the central and southeast part of town out to the new Canton switching line and then travel back to where they want to go.
When trains now travel the Canton line through southeast and central Sioux Falls over those grade crossings, the trains cut off all traffic in that entire corridor. How is that progress? How is that an improvement? The impact to the quality of life in southeast Sioux Falls will decrease with this alternative site. Now the residents in that area of Sioux Falls will hear double the train noise and horn tooting anytime day and night. What are they thinking? They said the reason for this new alternative is to minimize the falls area and cost.
Cost, that pesky factor in anything the city does these days. Evidently there is not enough federal money for the bridge allocation in the falls park alternative. There might be barely enough money for the siding option but the fact is the city could have to provide additional dollars to the federal allocation to get this project completed. That means 2nd penny tax dollars in the capital program or bonding.
That might explain the new alternative using the Canton line as a solution, sacrificing the quality of life for the southeastern section of the city. Quicker and cheaper, affordable and prudent - that may be the continuing line down at City Hall. Forget the fact that a huge residential part of the city will have to sacrificed for this progress. It was said that the Ellis & Eastern Mainline yard was already determined as feasible. So why are we considering the new Canton line as an alternative if there is already a feasible site?
The timeline was set out as follows:
- Over the next 90 days, city staff should be able to finalize the design work.
- The next update is October 3.
- Two public meetings will be held in November 2011 and May 2012.
- The draft EA will be ready by January 2012 with the final review and approval by September 2012.
- Construction in 2012-2014