Iowa Quad Cities riverfront communities detailed for federal regulators the expected economic development derailments and untracked business impact created by increased traffic from a proposed railroad merger. The potential merger of the Canadian Pacific (CP) with rival Kansas City Southern (KCS) could lead to a daily tripling of train traffic on CP’s line from Sabula, […]
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 52 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
Iowa Quad Cities riverfront communities detailed for federal regulators the expected economic development derailments and untracked business impact created by increased traffic from a proposed railroad merger.
The potential merger of the Canadian Pacific (CP) with rival Kansas City Southern (KCS) could lead to a daily tripling of train traffic on CP’s line from Sabula, north of Clinton, through the Quad Cities and down to Muscatine on the way south to Kansas City. An increase from eight trains a day to 24 or more is the expected byproduct of two of the seven largest railroad companies in North America merging. The CP announced in late October its intent to acquire KCS.
Potential deals also are being floated with some communities that will be impacted.
Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher told the QCBJ on Tuesday, March 29, “We did receive an offer from CP last week. We are discussing what options we may have at this point. I know Muscatine received an offer.”
Davenport also was expected to meet with CP, said Mr. Gallagher, who has led the charge in raising awareness of the merger’s impact on eastern Iowa. “I don’t think that Buffalo, Blue Grass, LeClaire or Princeton have received offers to lessen the impact of the potential merger,” he said.
Here’s a city-by-city look at some of the concerns being raised by Iowa Quad Cities community leaders:
Davenport concerns ‘grave’
Tripling train traffic in Davenport “will cause irreparable harm,” according to a city council letter shared with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in December.
That’s because the CP tracks run the length of the city’s riverfront east to west and could endanger decade-long improvement plans along the Mississippi River.
In jeopardy, according to the letter, is $10 million in city-funded riverfront projects in the area between the river and train tracks, including Modern Woodmen Park and the LeClaire Park bandshell. It also could impact more than $500 million in public and private funds being used to revitalize the downtown in the blocks just north of the tracks.
“This proposed merger will devastate the progress that has been made to date and severely hamper our community’s ability for future progress to the best cultural amenities our community has to offer,” the city wrote.
The letter also requests the STB require the railroad to cover all costs associated with necessary access improvements such as overpasses.
The council letter stressed the need for Quiet Zones on 13 crossings adjacent to residential neighborhoods and the downtown district as the merger is expected to bring an average of one train per hour each day.
Another “grave concern” is the railway’s too-close-for-comfort operating proximity to the Iowa American Water Co.’s regional wastewater treatment plant across from the Village of East Davenport. Currently, the plant is the only source of clean water in the Iowa Quad Cities, so the potential for train derailments in that area, is “a probability that will likely increase due to the rise in usage.”
The council concluded that, “without requiring CP to make improvements to access points to this critical infrastructure would show a flagrant disregard it has for the safety of our community.”
Mr. Gallagher, Bettendorf’s mayor who also is the current chair of Scott County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Commission, pointed to a pair of train derailments that occurred since January 2020 in Davenport and another in LeClaire.
Mr. Gallagher said the local EMA is working with Genesis Health System’s East Campus to drill two wells, “so that we can have some redundancy in our water,” he explained. “But we don’t have that right now. God forbid something happens to our only water source, because then we have a real problem.”
Davenport also requested an STB member visit prior to any decision to “view firsthand how (this) will have a disastrous impact on this community,” according to the letter.
LeClaire’s luck (so far)
This tourist destination acutely understands the damage and disruptions that could occur with increased rail traffic, LeClaire Mayor Dennis Gerard wrote the STB in late December along with City Administrator Dennis Bockenstedt.
Downtown LeClaire, where the train tracks run in front of riverside parking lots for quaint shops and restaurants, was the site of a CP train derailment on Jan. 3, 2020. More than a dozen rail cars and tankers toppled off the tracks near the Buffalo Bill Museum at 11 a.m. that Friday, forcing local officials to dispatch a hazardous materials team to the site.
“Luckily, no one was injured, no buildings were damaged, nor were there any hazardous materials released,” the two officials wrote. “Although there was extensive damage to public property and some privately-owned, parked vehicles nearby were damaged.”
Nearly $1 million in damages occurred from the accident, which could have been much worse, the officials noted, considering the area is “frequently populated with thousands of visitors, residents, and vehicles.”
Downtown LeClaire and the riverfront is a regional attraction and home to many local festivals and events, including the famous Tugfest with cross-river rival Port Byron, Illinois.
Mr. Gerard and Mr. Bockenstedt worry the potential for derailments with more severe outcomes increases along with the train traffic.
The railway bisects several prominent areas besides the separate downtown and Cody Road commercial districts. Included are eight street crossings plus the city’s riverfront park, boat ramp, primary sewage pumping station, nearly 100 riverfront residences and a pair of private marinas.
Besides access issues and heightened safety concerns, LeClaire’s current economic development plan calls for “a total makeover” to the riverfront, and particularly the downtown Marina District “within the next 10 years,” the city officials wrote.
LeClaire is proposing a pedestrian overpass bridge downtown, the establishment of one or more Quiet Zones, and improved crossings — especially for the Holiday Inn Express hotel and other Cody Road businesses, as well as for the Canal Street homes.
Bettendorf bridging the gap?
The new Interstate 74 Bridge helped jumpstart downtown redevelopment efforts in Bettendorf, but Mayor Gallagher said a billion dollars of economic impact around the just-completed span is being jeopardized by the potential train traffic increases.
Included is a proposed “4-5 phase build” with a $650 million price tag, he said.
“The land immediately adjacent to the (Isle of Capri) Casino is still owned by the Goldstein family and some businesses, and we’ve worked with them over the past several years to do some of the things that they’d like to do on the riverfront,” the mayor said without revealing specifics.
“But with only one crossing over the CP rail line (leading only to the casino property), we are really concerned about the ability to use the land around the river and the loss of potential economic development.
“If that’s something that we don’t get because of the increased train traffic, that certainly hurts our community,” he added.
Mr. Gallagher said other developers are considering a project west of the I-74 Bridge, but those plans also are on hold pending the resolution of access issues because of the railway traffic increases.
“There are multiple phase projects on lots of ground that would be awesome, but this is a little fly in that ointment,” the mayor said. “You can’t just look at somebody who wants to put that kind of money into a development and say ‘don’t worry about it — it’s not going to affect you.’”
Ditto for a city-funded, five-acre urban planned park bisected underneath the new bridge by the rail line. The proposed park is planned to complete the new span’s cross-river bike path that will connect the Iowa-side Mississippi River Trail with the Illinois-side American Discovery Trail.
“But we’re going to have access cut off to our downtown,” by the trains, Mr. Gallagher said, “and that will hamper that development and make it much less safe for walkers and riders. We hope it doesn’t impact tourism, but I’m sure it will.”
Also affected is Bettendorf’s revitalized downtown, which has hopes of hosting festivals and other events soon.
“There’ll be a different feel to downtown,” Mr. Gallagher said. “We want to create a new sense of place and quite frankly, that does not include three-hour waits and large train whistles and vibrations.”
To help overcome the problems, Bettendorf is proposing a Quiet Zone in downtown as well as four vehicular overpasses – at 31st, 33rd, 35th and 62nd streets – to deliver employees to their companies on the river side of the train tracks.
An overpass also could be possible at 23rd Street. The city also desires a pedestrian bridge to carry walkers and bike riders safely over the trains at the new proposed park under the I-74 bridge.
However, an overpass is impossible for Leach Park and the boat ramp there, Mr. Gallagher said.
“We just don’t have enough land to make it happen,” he added. “You can’t get up and down before you get into the river.”
Muscatine projects misery
Like its regional neighbor Clinton, Muscatine features a large southern portion of the city where the train tracks stray from hugging the riverfront.
Unfortunately, the south end of Muscatine is a mixture of businesses and neighborhoods east of the tracks – and they could potentially be cut off from the rest of the city by increased train travel.
Even Muscatine’s plans for a new 4,500-seat amphitheater a couple of miles north at Riverside Park “could be affected,” admitted Muscatine Mayor Brad Bark. That’s because the development is squeezed in the land between the river and the railway — and on the “wrong side of the tracks,” he added.
The city currently is tabulating the possible economic impact as well as the cost of potential improvements needed to mitigate any troubles with increased train traffic, the mayor said.
“We’re going to continue to look at our projects and hopefully keep moving forward,” Mr. Bark added. “We believe here in Muscatine that we need to work on housing and continue focusing on economic development. But it looks like we are going to have to get a lot of help from the railroad to keep those economic trains rolling.
“We are working hard in terms of increasing tourism and public enjoyment, but the possibility of an amphitheater and some other construction projects that are about to happen, there’s a little concern on how (the train traffic increase) impacts those plans.”
For instance, Mr. Bark said a corporation has approached the city council about renovating a building he wishes to keep nameless for now. But while the building is on the west side of the train tracks, the close proximity to the trains could be a factor.
“I think that they’re still going to be OK. It shouldn’t affect them that much, from talking to the representative,” Mr. Bark said while lauding city staff.
Among many potential fixes, Mr. Bark said several improved crossings have been identified on the south end by the city.
“To drive over the top, you’re going to need a starting point a little bit further back and a place to come down on the other side, so it doesn’t work at every trouble spot,” Mr. Bark said. “That’s not going to happen down by the riverfront – but are there possibilities of having walkability going over the top of the railroad tracks?
“(Riverside Park) is a key part to our downtown, so we want to make sure that’s a Quiet Zone, as well – especially with The Merrill Hotel and our historic buildings downtown. There’s many people that live and work there (in that area).”
Mr. Bark is no less concerned a couple of blocks south.
“There’s a disproportionate impact on the historical, disadvantaged neighborhoods on the south end,” he said.
Clinton impact ‘minimal’
Clinton Mayor Scott Maddasion fully understands the many perplexing problems downriver, but confesses his city is less impacted than their neighbors to the south by the potential of increased train traffic.
“The railroad doesn’t really cut through the primary commercial business district here,” Mr. Maddasion explained. “More traffic for us, as long as they’re moving and not stopping, shouldn’t be much of a change.”
Mr. Maddasion said any stopping issues ended when CP moved their call light and Clinton train depot from downtown two years ago, relocating to the industrial area in south Clinton marked by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).
“Obviously, they use rail, too – that’s part of their business,” Mr. Maddasion said of ADM, one of the world’s largest corn wet mills.
The industrial area is south of U.S. Highway 30 and east of U.S. Highway 67 – and contains most of the rail line in Clinton.
“Unless you are an employee or customer of ADM – that’s the biggest place that you would see some congestion from trains rolling through,” Mr. Maddasion said.
There is a small swath of riverfront affected from the industrial area through the city limits to the north, he added. But the easternmost part of Clinton is populated mainly by amenities including baseball stadium and Riverview Park.
Mr. Maddasion noted the city has yet to hear any discouraging words from businesses on the east side of the tracks.
Instead, the mayor credits the work Clinton has done with CP over the last several year. A Quiet Zone project north of the industrial area is nearly complete, with Clinton closing several crossings and focusing safety improvements on those that remain.
“What that does is it allows the trains to not have to blow their whistles when they’re coming through,” Mr. Maddasion said. “They used to blow it like 70 or 80 times going through Clinton, and once we’re done with this, it’s going to go down to 18 whistles – and only because we have a few crossings where there’s just not enough land to do it the correct way, because the road’s right along the tracks.”