This report has been updated.
PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Railroad Board listened to sales pitches Tuesday from project sponsors competing for grants from a federal program.
The board has $58.9 million available in what are called Special Transportation Circumstances grants, which the Federal Railroad Administration provides to states such as South Dakota that don’t have regular passenger-train service.
Among the eight applications the board is considering are two new ones:
Sioux Falls wants $12 million for a highway overpass planned on the city’s northwest side, where the Burlington Northern Santa Fe crosses Marion Road.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation wants at least $10 million — and as much as $21.8 million — to rebuild a stretch of the state-owned Napa line in the southeastern region, so that the route might become attractive to a private buyer.
The other six requests are for $3.2 million from Sisseton Milbank Railroad; $14 million from Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad; $8.3 million from Ringneck & Western Railroad; as much as $1.9 million from Belle Fourche Economic Development Corporation; nearly $10 million from D & I Railroad; and as much as $30 million from Dakota, Missouri Valley & Western Railroad.
The governor-appointed board, meeting in person for the first time this year, had five members participating Tuesday. Jerry Cope of Rapid City was excused, while one of the new appointees, Ralph Schmidt of Big Stone City, recused himself because he is general manager for Sisseton Milbank Railroad.
The board will decide on the applications yet this fall.
UPDATE: Brad Ludens, a city engineer, explained the Sioux Falls proposal. It would be in the Foundation Park industrial development. He said BNSF currently runs two to six trains per week and there will be more in the future. Marion Road and the BNSF track now meet at a 45-degree angle.
The present timetable calls for 2026 construction but the project could go to bid as early as 2024 if the city receives the federal grant, according to Ludens. “We’re actively exploring all our options,” he said.
Board member Steve Scharnweber of Pierre told Ludens that he would find difficulty supporting so much money for such a short stretch of overpass.
Ludens said a preliminary round of meetings was held last year with property owners in the area of the proposed overpass. He said the project design is now 30% complete and a second round will be held this fall.
On the Napa line, there currently is no traffic, and a western segment will be converted to salvage. Jack Dokken, DOT’s railroad administrator, said his office receives calls from potential users of the line but its poor condition and state ownership have deterred any development. Dakota Southern currently subleases the line. That contract runs through December 2026.
“The goal is of the state to get these lines back into private ownership,” Dokken said.