Thursday, January 26, 2012

Will We Ever See A Downtown Railroad Relocation?

On July 5, 2011, the City Council was given a quarterly update on the Railroad Relocation Project. 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
The update to the city council on October 3, 2011 was verbal with no associated documents. The council was told there was no change to the feasible site alternatives to take into the environmental process. The staff was still looking at the Ellis Eastern site and the Southeast location. City staff continues with the evaluation stage working with the railroad on limits to the project. The environmental field survey work was completed in September 2011 with survey letters sent to affected property owners. They are working on a draft of the environmental assessment document. At this meeting, we heard new milestones:

  • Working on public outreach
  • Project Steering Committee Meeting scheduled in October 2011.
  • Project Consultant to give City Council an update in late November 2011.
  • Public Meeting to be held in late November 2011.
  • Draft EA to be completed sometime next year so the public can look at it.
  • Design phase cannot start until the EA document is completed.
  • Project website is updated at
In other words, real substantial progress was not made in those 90 days from July until October 2011. Finalization of design work is no where near being done because the environmental assessment document draft is not yet completed. No decision has been made regarding the feasibility of the downtown main switching yard and the siding alternative to a new bridge over the Sioux River at the Falls . I could relate to Councilor Entenmen's comment at the October 2011 meeting where he asked for an updated timeline at the November 2011 update. Who's on first, who's on second?

Guess what? No update was given in November 2011. No public meeting was held in late November 2011. The city's website lists the following project milestones and schedule which is different than what was presented to the City Council in July and October 2011:

Milestones and Schedule

Federal Earmark Approved
January 2006
Environmental Assessment Started
May 2006
First Public Meeting
July 26, 2006
Second Public Meeting
January 17, 2007
Third Public Meeting
April 3,2008
Fourth Public Meeting
January 2012
Complete Draft Environmental Assessment Document
January 2012
Fifth Public Meeting
May 2012
Complete Final Environmental Assessment Document
September 2012
FHWA Approval of Environmental Assessment
September 2012
2012 – 2013
2013 – 2014

Is there anyone on the City Council who is keeping track of this project and what is promised at the Council Information Meetings? Oh, I forgot. They fired their executive research staff person back in September 2011.

This project is mired in details and moving milestones. While the city muddles through the site alternatives and the environmental assessment and design work, the federal government will take their money earmarked for this project and put it towards the mounting and strangling federal debt because this earmark shows no real substantial progress since it was awarded in 2006. 

Let's not forget that little tidbit dropped on the Council back in October 2011. There will probably be a need for additional funds above the federal earmark. Tack that on to the 2nd penny sales and use tax revenue as a future need and let it compete with street construction and maintenance needs and the Event Center debt repayment. 

Will we ever see the completion of the railroad relocation project? It seems doubtful to me. Phases II and III are no where near being completed today than they were a year ago. The mayor may have accomplished his campaign goal to build an event center but his goal to complete the Railroad Relocation Project sure looks like it is heading towards a failure. And that will be his legacy too.


  1. I have followed the railroad relocation project for the past ten years. Federal and State officials are tentatively scheduled to be in Sioux Falls for public input meetings February 27th and 28th.

    All pieces of this project are controversial and face significant local opposition.

    The relocation of the downtown switch yard that was originally planned for the west side of Timberline Road was moved to the east side of Timberline. Based on opposition from the City of Brandon it has now been moved back to the west side of Timberline where there are several issues including a history of flooding.

    Sioux Falls taxpayers have invested millions of dollars in the rehabilitation of Falls Park which makes the prospect of a second bridge over the Falls unacceptable.

    Rumor has it that the potential rail siding planned for south of 57th Street has been moved to south of 69th Street due to opposition from residents in southeastern Sioux Falls.

    The removal of three out of the five tracks in the downtown area may improve safety in a minor way but at what cost!!?? If trains must move through SF to the SE rail siding it will create safety and traffic issues on major streets throughout the city.

    So what do we actually gain by relocating the downtown switch yard.....

    It frees up 16 acres of downtown land for re-development....

    AND, an unknown price tag for this project, as local officials have been unwilling to clarify just how many millions of local tax dollars it would take to complete this project.

    Maybe having the Feds take back the 35 million dollar earmark is not such a bad idea after all!!!!!!

  2. Whether the rail siding is south of 57th or south of 69th Street makes no difference. It still means those 100 car trains are going to be traveling through the east side of Sioux Falls, blocking the intersection on River Blvd., 26th and Southeastern, and 49th and Southeastern. Trains traveling through that area already cause massive traffic jams. Think what it is going to be like when they add a rail siding south of 57th or 69th. Unfortunately, I agree with the post from CR. Let the Feds take the money back. This whole thing has turned into a major mess and there is not going to be enough money in the 2nd penny to clean up the mess after the federal money has been spent.It would be nice to have 16 acres of downtown land for redevelopment but at what cost?

  3. In addition, I failed to mention the OBVIOUS which is the negative impact to property values all along the rail line as the increased train traffic travels from the downtown area to south of 69th.

    It is IMPERATIVE that citizens who oppose any aspect of this project start making A LOT OF NOISE. As both Senators Johnson and Thune have stated there is tremendous pressure on local officials to get signed-off on this project, consequently there is going to be a RUSH to do so!!!!!!!!!!!!


  4. Mayor's Special Projects Coordiator whom he hired to track "special projects" doesn't appear to be tracking anything. Isn't the railroad project a "special project"? Another bogus job position in the Mayor's office.

  5. Ive gone back to reread your previious blogs on railraod relocation. See Blog 11-5-10 for the mayor's quote from a "Ask the Mayor" segment on Channel 16..."We believe strongly that we can get that accomplished pretty quickly and we need to. It's money sitting out there that can help us grow jobs, grow the economy as well as get us prepared for development in downtown Sioux Falls, so lets take advantage of it." So Mayor, seems like you've seriously dropped the ball on this one. Shot all your wad on the Events Center that will sit out there are the Arena site and cost us instead of feed the city coffers. The railroad will never get moved out of downtown and we will remember you for doing nothing for downtown Sioux Falls.

  6. So we are going to negatively impact the whole east side of Sioux Falls by putting the rail siding out by 57th or 69th and strangle hold traffic flow as these trains move through town? Put it out by Rice where it was supposed to always go in the first place! And get this project going. The lack of action by the City on this project when the feds awarded $40 million in 2006 is really an indictment against those in power in City Hall.

  7. I have to agree with CR. If Public Works (aka Mayor) puts the proposal through for the 57th/69th area,then the City Council needs to step up and block this proposal for the good of the City. Is Cotter going to build his big railroad overpass bridges at 26th Street, Cliff and other major eastside intersections like out at 57th and 69th? Those bridges are nice but they do nothing to ease the back up when trains pass through 49th, 26th, River Blvd and Cliff. Talk about choking off the eastside of Sioux Falls! Cost prohibitive!

  8. People need to understand, this isn't just for downtown development, it's a critical project for the City & State as a whole. Don't forget that we had a large business (TJN) in a position where not only was it difficult for them to move and expand, but they damn near were incentivised to move out of Sioux Falls altogether and take their jobs and tax base to another City. The Mayor and his Administration deserve credit for preventing that, but the fact that we had and still have such a limited supply of rail served industrial sites of any size is inexcusable for a City that's always promoted itself as a place to start and grow companies. Moving the switchyard will open up hundreds of acres of industrial ground = jobs x 3. You'd think the local politicians would be all over this project.

  9. Di you ever think that there is a reason for the Mayor's inattention to the railroad relocation for downtown? He has pushed his event center plan through and he knows there will be no money left to put towards the costs of this relocation since we all heard at the last informational that it will cost more than the $35M that is left from the Feds. Ain't no way he's going to push this agenda folks. Thanks, Mayor, for leaving downtown high and dry.

  10. Tell me again, why do we have to relocate? And if we do why couldn't it go to Corson, seems like there isn't much going on there, and lots of empty space, and the place that repairs railroad cars are there, and there are already tracks going there...just saying

  11. I think it is an excellent idea to relocate the downtown rail yard and look forward to a passing siding on the south side of Sioux Falls for the BNSF. I bought a house specifically along the right-of-way (railroad) because I love to watch the passing trains. For me, this is an excellent opportunity for additional trains running thru my backyard. Traffic issues from trains along Southeastern are not that bad at all from my perspective. I rarely have any issues at all.