With the battle still brewing locally and regionally over the merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways, one city has jumped aboard the train expansion. Bettendorf’s city council voted July 5 to accept a $3 million settlement from the railway to help cover the cost of creating “Quiet Zones” at the railroad […]
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With the battle still brewing locally and regionally over the merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways, one city has jumped aboard the train expansion.
Bettendorf’s city council voted July 5 to accept a $3 million settlement from the railway to help cover the cost of creating “Quiet Zones” at the railroad crossings between 12th and 35th streets downtown. The improved safety measures include installing flashing lights and gates, as well as medians to prevent vehicles from going around those gates.
Why did Bettendorf opt to settle? The Quad Cities Regional Business Journal’s Steve Tappa put that question and others to Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher.
Why settle now?
“We did some background work on the cost of the Quiet Zones, Pedestrian Overpasses, and At-Grade Crossings –which is a vehicle overpass like we have on George Thuenen Drive to get to the Isle of Capri Casino – and attempted to negotiate with the CP to get more money than we did. But I think Council felt with staff direction that this was the best deal that they would get from CP.
“We also did a lot of legwork with the STB (Surface Transportation Board) to assure ourselves that when the STB draft environmental study report comes out there would not be this type of environmental impact mitigation ordered from the STB. So, we were thankful to the STB for what we believe was some forthright information.
“We also did some background work in researching other mergers of this size and magnitude and whether or not the offer from CP seemed reasonable – and in the end, it did, so we accepted the negotiated $3 million.”
Are you pleased with what the settlement includes?
“We think the impact will be felt more strongly than maybe CP believed. But that’s what a negotiation and compromise is all about – nobody gets everything they want.
“However, the fact that the railroad is already here, and it’s merely an increase in traffic puts the city as well as all other cities in this category in a difficult spot. How do you measure what the increased environmental impact may be when you already have the railroad – and the railroad predates this merger? So, this is the kind of conversations that we had and the research that we performed that led us to this conclusion that accepting the offer of $3 million to put towards this mitigation was in the best interests of the city.”
What does the settlement with the railroad cover?
“Adding Quiet Zones at the intersections between 12th and 35th (streets) downtown is estimated to cost about half of that, so the settlement allows us to consider other upgrades. As you go farther upriver and out of town, we would like some connectivity in between the railroad tracks and the river, so that if we can find a place to cross with emergency vehicles, we can go up or down the tracks and river, as the case may be, to perform whatever type of emergency services are required.
“We found the STB is unlikely to support a pedestrian or (vehicular) overpass as a condition of approval. But we will consider adding those in our capital improvement plan – especially at 26th Street if some possible riverfront development happens there – and with the urban park we are working on underneath the new I-74 bridge.”
How does the settlement impact the urban park?
“We’ve already begun construction. The rail line runs through the area, so special consideration already is being paid to make sure that crossing will be safe for the bicyclists and pedestrians accessing the bridge. We are considering adding elevators to reach the I-74 pedestrian path, which might give us an opportunity to connect from one side of the tracks to the other, and then also get handicapped individuals and people with bikes – anybody in general – up onto that bridge in a better way.”
What’s the impact on other downtown plans?
“It’s my hope that the safety measures we put in place will ensure investors that it’s still the right risk today to invest in the downtown and riverfront area in Bettendorf. We have a couple different early-stage proposals – certainly, nothing that’s come before council or anything like that at this point – but there are some folks who are interested in doing some pretty cool stuff, and my hope is that this environmental impact from the merger will not deter them from their plans. I don’t think that it will – but also, we’ve got the economic factors that are ongoing.
“It’s pretty difficult to get buildings built anywhere near the cost that they could have been erected maybe a year and a half ago, so increased costs of steel and other products hurts. We’ve also got a labor shortage the likes of which we’ve never seen, so it’s kind of a tough time. But we’re still hopeful that we’re a great investment in the City of Bettendorf – and we continue to work hard as a council and staff on our plan to bring an entertainment and living district to the downtown riverfront area – even with increased train traffic.”
When will Bettendorf get the settlement money?
“We receive the money within 60 days of the STB OK’ing the merger.
“Any increase in train traffic is expected to happen over a period of time – say five or six years – so the use of the funds will be over the next 5 to 6 years to target certain interchanges and do whatever is needed to increase the safety there.
“I feel comfortable that we did an excellent job turning over every stone to make the best decision on behalf of the city that we could make.
“Chris Curran, our city attorney, and Decker Ploehn, our city administrator, and the rest of our staff should be commended for their work. Chris did all of the research and worked with the STB and other cities.
“My role in that simply was to attempt to be visible in the community to drive support, get people involved in asking questions and getting our congressmen and senators to be aware of the problem so that they could lobby on our behalf – not only to the STB, but maybe also to CP. All along, the feeling was that the merger will most likely happen, and so we needed to do the best for our constituents as we could. It’s not everything we had hoped for – and yet I think it’s way better than what the STB would have or could have ordered CP to perform as a condition of the approval process.”
What of other communities?
“I think each city is different. You can’t just determine what the environmental impact to a city may be based upon the population of the city or the geographic size of the city. There are a number of different types of crossings in Muscatine, for instance. And I think based on the way we attempted to negotiate, which was to show to CP what work we think we need to do to mitigate the safety issues – I think in comparison to other cities, we were treated fairly, and I certainly hope all cities affected are treated fairly.”
Other cities mull railroad merger deal
Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth – along with Chicagoland-area U.S. Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Marie Newman — sent a letter July 25 to Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Martin Oberman.
The letter urges the regulatory agency to reject allowing the two railroads to join because of the adverse economic and environmental impacts of increased train traffic to communities in the already-traffic congested Chicagoland area.
Only a few hours to the west, the merger and resulting tripling of train traffic remain a concern for the same reasons in Iowa’s Mississippi River towns stretching from Clinton to Muscatine in the Quad Cities area.
At this writing the Davenport City Council was preparing to consider a $10 million settlement from Canadian Pacific. The proposal reportedly includes $8 million for infrastructure upgrades. The cities of Muscatine and LeClaire remained in negotiations. Valued at roughly $31 billion, the proposed merger creates the first single rail line connecting Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. – and promises to move goods between the three countries quicker and more efficiently.
The STB must approve the move, though. It is in the public comment phase of considering the merger, which the regulatory agency estimates will increase train traffic locally from a current average of eight per day to nearly 23 or one per hour by 2027.
The higher volume will result in longer delays, especially with the length of the trains also expected to grow larger than those typically needing an average of 4-5 minutes currently to pass a local crossing.
As a condition of the expected approval this fall, the STB could order the expanded railway to fully or partially fund the measures needed to lessen the possible impacts. The STB already has announced a five-year period to review those decisions in case more changes are proven necessary.