Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where Shall We Put those Railroad Tracks?

Three hundred people showed up Monday night to hear city plans on the railroad relocation project. It is natural for the proponents of the project to attack those residents who are opposed to it being in their "neighborhood." This is an exciting project that would spur development in the downtown area, the heart of Sioux Falls. However, opposition to the proposed main switching yard location from Brandon residents or opposition to the Canton siding alternative from southeast Sioux Falls residents is very real and must be addressed by city officials.

Two different issues in this project, two very real concerns. One area is zoned industrial and has always been industrial. One area  is residential and has never been zoned industrial.

I am at a crossroads regarding this debate because I am a southeast Sioux Falls resident. I am pro Downtown, always have been, always will be. But I also live less than a mile from the proposed Canton line siding alternative. Full disclosure - I am one of those southeast Sioux Falls residents that question why this siding alternative is proposed for a residential area instead of an industrial area. I question why the southeast and east side of Sioux Falls must be sacrificed for this project.

The primary component of the Rail Relocation Project is the relocation of the downtown main switching yard farther east, along Rice Street. But a smaller switching area would be needed to allow railroad crews to move the engine from one end of the train to the other. This switching area is referred to as a "siding alternative."
 The Canton siding alternative is new to this project and this location was just introduced last year because the Falls Park alternative is not considered viable. The Canton siding alternative proposal impacts a zoned residential area. Railroad switching activities should not be located in zoned residential areas. What happened to the proposed siding alternatives in the northeast part of Sioux Falls?  What happened to a possible location for a new siding along the existing Corson Subdivision mainline south of downtown.

This project has languished for so long that options seem to be getting financially out of reach. The Feds are threatening to take back the authorization of funds. It looks like the taxpayers will have to pony up additional money to help pay for this project. As a result, residential areas are proposed to be sacrificed to make this project work. Whose fault is this? It is the city's fault for not moving this project forward when the federal earmark was first given to the city back in 2006.

Why did the first environmental assessment get rejected?  The intent of the EA is to provide a full
and fair discussion of environmental impacts of the Project and to inform decision makers and the public of the reasonable alternatives that would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment. When you keep changing or adding new locations, or when you can't come to an agreement on where the main switching line should be and where the siding alternative should be, an environmental assessment will never get done.

2006 to the present, 2012; no wonder everyone is upset and now taking sides. It has grown into something no one initially envisioned when the project was first proposed. Houses have been built near a zoned industrial area identified for the main line move. A zoned residential area is proposed to be sacrificed to accommodate railroad switching activities. It's no wonder this project has become controversial. That's what happens when 6 years elapse and no activity or real progress takes place to move a major project forward.

Public hearings were held in 2006, 2007 and 2008 after the federal earmark was approved. No presentations were made to the City Council on this project until November 2010. Give credit to Mayor Huether for attempting to finally move this project forward since he was elected in May 2010. Five presentations have been made to the City Council since November 2010 regarding this project. Yesterday was the first public hearing on this project since 2008.

It's just too bad that this administration wants to sacrifice the entire eastside corridor to do it. It is just too bad this administration wants to put a flurry of train activity in the heart of residential southeast Sioux Falls. It's just too bad that the Canton siding alternative will create a stanglehold on various high volume traffic intersections in east Sioux Falls. It's just too bad that the money needs associated with this big project are growing leaps and bounds and the promise of federal money is not even a sure thing anymore. The rush to keep the federal money while sacrificing the east and southeast residents of Sioux Falls is a poor solution.

Where indeed shall we put those railroad tracks? The chant - not in my neighborhood - seems to be growing every day. It will continue to grow when you choose to sacrifice zoned residential instead of choosing zoned industrial land for this project.


  1. My guess is the Canton option was put on the table because it was the least expensive. I'm sure it's the "most palatable & prudent" option which as we all know typically screws us royally over the long haul.

  2. The rush to keep the federal money while sacrificing the east and southeast residents of Sioux Falls is a poor solution.


    I agree. On the other hand, a second bridge over the Falls is also NOT acceptable. Sioux Falls taxpayers have invested millions of dollars in the rehabilitation of Falls Park.

    I have followed this project for years. I was surprised last July, when they announced the rail siding alternative. For anyone who would like to view this public works presentation, it is available on SIRE....July 5, 2011 Council Informational meeting.

    When I was at the meeting at the Orpheum last night, we got clarification on why the city came up with this new rail siding alternative last year. You cannot rec federal funding for any project that impacts parklands if there is a "feasible" alternative.

    It is possible that opposition from SE SF residents could "kill" the rail siding alternative, but that is also true of the Falls Park "bridge" alternative.

    Two other alternatives were presented yesterday. They are discussed in the most detail at the 4:00 Informational meeting available on SIRE.

    One of the alternatives has already been rejected by BNSF. The other alternative would create major traffic tie-ups at 14th and Cliff, one of our city's main north-south routes. In order to get around the traffic delays, traffic would be routed through surrounding neighborhoods!!! A ludicrous idea which is almost starting to make the proponents of this project look DESPERATE!!!!!

    This entire idea of relocating the switchyard has really come down to a question of what are Sioux Falls citizens willing to sacrifice in order to free up 47 acres (per Benesch) of downtown land for commercial and residential development!!!???

    Perhaps a petition drive and a public vote are the answer.

  3. a rail road line goes by De's house. lets put it there.

  4. I believe the preferred option is a bridge at the Falls...it would preclude the southeast option. It would be viable and could be made.to.look "period" authentic. You have to offer alternatives to the feds. Environmentally, southeast won't wash

  5. A "period" authentic bridge over the Falls.........

    A bridge is a bridge is a bridge............!!!

    As Benesch, the consultant on the project, indicated last evening, it would be very, very difficult to pass the bridge alternative through the environmental assessment process.

    The bridge alternative is a second bridge located to the NORTH of the current railroad bridge and the original bridge would remain as is.

    I encourage you to take a drive down to the Falls and visualize what that would do to the entire park!!!

  6. It is interesting that safety and fire department response times are not talked about when increased train traffic on the Canton line is brought up. The fire station on 49th street is west of the tracks. There are four elementary schools, two nursing homes, and a swimming pool east of the track and dependent on the station for their first responders and fire protection. Then there are all the apartments and homes east of the tracks . Trains can tie up the crossing for minutes at a time. The fire department in promoting the clearing of snow away from fire hydrants has a tag line " Seconds save lives" Can we expect a new fire station east of the tracks to serve the areas cut off from the 49th street station by the increased frequency of train traffic up and down the line?

  7. I say give the money back. Where are we going to come up with the millons to match the Feds money. BSNF are not the ones looking to move its the few developers in Sioux Falls looking to get the taxpayers to pay for an area that they want.

  8. @ 6:43pm That's an asinine sentiment. The Feds shortchanged us royally on the Flood Control project after they changed the rules requiring us to raise the dykes. They also have slow payed and underfunded Lewis & Clark to the tune of more millions of $$. Why waste an earmark that our Congressional delegation worked hard to secure, especially when we know that for the next decade or so while we dig out of the hole we are in we will continue to see support from the Feds diminish. Rail is the future of efficient commerce for this entire region. The money we spend now is chump change compared to the potential tax revenues generated not only by redeveloping the old switch yard, but also from all the industrial users who would expand (like TJN) or would relocate their facilities here as long as we have an inventory of rail served lots (which we currently don't).

  9. "What happened to the proposed siding alternatives in the northeast part of Sioux Falls? What happened to a possible location for a new siding along the existing Corson Subdivision mainline south of downtown."

    Are these areas residential? And if they are, they can scream NIMBY also can they not?

    "This entire idea of relocating the switchyard has really come down to a question of what are Sioux Falls citizens willing to sacrifice in order to free up 47 acres (per Benesch) of downtown land for commercial and residential development!!!???"

    Worth repeating CR. Well worth repeating.


  10. The main switchyard has 2 proposed relocation sites. One INSIDE Sioux Falls city limits (Site 1) and one OUTSIDE Sioux Falls City limits (Site 3). Brandon residents are upset with Site 3 as it is in THEIR growth area - not the Sioux Falls growth area. The Site 3 area is NOT zoned for heavy industrial and never has been. It is zoned residential, office, commercial and light industrial.

    Sioux Falls has the right to do whatever they wish inside their own city limits (Site 1). They are overstepping with this project when they want to relocate their garbage in another town's turf.

  11. After reading the paper this morning I got a pretty good chuckle. Not only did BSNF decline to kick in any money to help relocate but made people aware that this is not there plan but SF's and they are just trying to be "good corporate citizen". Then to top it off our Mayor states how he saved the city money by taking a charter flight for 3000 and some dollars for the 10 attendies instead of 10 seperate plane tickets. I am really glad he had the taxpayers money put to best use. I mean really could you imagine how much it would have cost to drive a few vehicles or rent a limo to take them there for the day. Maybe our Great Mayor should look at purchasing a plane for the citie if a few hour drive to a meeting and a few back is to inconvenient for those attending the meeting. South east SF we better get ready for train delays as BSNF stated that there will be more than one extra train a day like our leaders were telling us. I wonder what else they are not telling us.