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$1.2M proposed for Chamberlain bridge

CHAMBERLAIN — Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget proposal includes $1.2 million that could be used to repair the railroad bridge in Chamberlain.

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Dusty Johnson, Daugaard’s chief of staff, said Tuesday in an interview with The Daily Republic that, pending legislative approval, the $1.2 million would be put in the state’s railroad trust fund, but would only be used to repair the railroad bridge if a deal is made to rehabilitate an adjoining stretch of railroad west of the Missouri River.

“This is really a nice lead gift to show that the state is committed to making something happen,” Johnson said.

The $1.2 million in Daugaard’s proposed budget comes from a portion of the funds the state collected from unclaimed property. Unclaimed property is money turned over to the state from bank accounts and other property for which the owners cannot be found.

A $28 million rehabilitation of the Mitchell to Rapid City rail line between Mitchell and Chamberlain was completed last year. It was partially funded through a $16 million federal grant.

“We don’t yet have any solid plans in place to be able to do that west of the river,” Johnson said. “That’s the hope.”

Attempts by the state to secure more federal funding for additional work on the line have been unsuccessful.

“It’s an issue we continue to work with,” said Bruce Lindholm, railroad program manager for the South Dakota Department of Transportation. “There is a high level of shipper interest west of Chamberlain.”

Ideally, Lindholm said, the rail line would be extended to Presho, which is about another 40 miles west of Chamberlain. Johnson estimated that could cost $30 million.

By setting aside $1.2 million for the railroad bridge repair, Johnson said, it is more likely the necessary partners will be found to bring about the rehabilitation of the line west of the Missouri River.

The recently rehabilitated portion of the line between Mitchell and Chamberlain received nearly constant maintenance this past summer, Lindholm said, mostly due to traffic around the new Liberty Grain facility between Kimball and White Lake. Before September 2012, when Liberty Grain began running rail cars, the line had not supported regular service since the mid-1990s.

Johnson said the Liberty Grain facility is an example of public investment in infrastructure resulting in private investment.

“That kind of private infrastructure puts real money in people’s pockets,” he said.