Confidence in a project to rehabilitate a railroad west of the Missouri River continues to build, according to those leading the project.
Earlier this month, the Mitchell Rapid City Railroad Authority Board committed to a $3.5 million loan from the state rail board to improve the railroad from Chamberlain to Presho. That commitment was finalized Monday when the rail authority board voted unanimously to approve the loan during a special meeting held via conference call.
"We're getting a lot of support and a lot of letters, which is really good," said Bruce Lindholm, the railroad project manager for the state Department of Transportation. "Maybe we can get it done this time."
The efforts to improve the railroad date back years but specific requests to improve the rail west of the Missouri River have failed at the grant stage each of the last two years.
Lindholm said he's received a good number of letters of support. Those letters will be part of the state's application for a $14 million grant, that will be submitted this month.
The rail authority's support was important to the state Department of Transportation, which is attempting to receive a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the federal government that would cover half of the estimated $28 million cost.
Similar to the $2.7 million loan from the state rail board to the rail authority in 2011 for the Mitchell to Chamberlain rail upgrades, the loan would be paid off with a $50-per-car surcharge and would have no interest, minimum annual payment or time limit for total payback.
If all funding sources are approved, 41.6 miles of track would be improved stretching from Chamberlain to Presho and possibly farther, if funds allow, Lindholm said. The upgrades would include heavy-gauge rail that could hold 115-car trains and would also include fixes to the culverts along the railroad and upgrades to the railroad bridge over the Missouri River at Chamberlain.
The state legislature has committed to $7.2 million in rail rehab funding, while the state rail board and Mitchell Rapid City Railroad Authority would each spend $3.5 million to fund the project. Another $1 million would come from Dakota Southern Railway and various agriculture groups have contributed another $300,000 to the overall cost.
"If we can move the cars across the track, that would be a real good thing for a lot of farmers," said Board Chairman Tom Greenway, of Mount Vernon.