Rail to trail expansion looming

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  • RALPH BARTHOLDT/Press A bicyclist rides under the Seltice Way overpass on the Prairie Trail in Coeur d’Alene on Sunday. Multiple agencies are working on a plan that would eliminate the Union Pacific railroad spur line on the Rathdrum Prairie and expand the trail from Huetter Road to Highway 41.

  • 1

    Looking west, a vehicle heads north on Highway 41 over the Union Pacific Spur Line Railroad. The Idaho Transportation Department, City of Post Falls and the Post Falls Highway District hope to eliminate the railroad tracks and expand the recreation trail. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    This photo shows the Union Pacific railroad spur line looking eastbound on Prairie near Meyer. The AmeriGas propane company, which currently utilizes the railroad, is also shown in the background. (BRIAN WALKER/Press)

  • RALPH BARTHOLDT/Press A bicyclist rides under the Seltice Way overpass on the Prairie Trail in Coeur d’Alene on Sunday. Multiple agencies are working on a plan that would eliminate the Union Pacific railroad spur line on the Rathdrum Prairie and expand the trail from Huetter Road to Highway 41.

  • 1

    Looking west, a vehicle heads north on Highway 41 over the Union Pacific Spur Line Railroad. The Idaho Transportation Department, City of Post Falls and the Post Falls Highway District hope to eliminate the railroad tracks and expand the recreation trail. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

  • 2

    This photo shows the Union Pacific railroad spur line looking eastbound on Prairie near Meyer. The AmeriGas propane company, which currently utilizes the railroad, is also shown in the background. (BRIAN WALKER/Press)

By BRIAN WALKER

Staff Writer

POST FALLS — Post Falls has agreed to buy 10 acres of Union Pacific railroad right-of-way on the Rathdrum Prairie, the latest step to eliminate the spur line so the Prairie Trail can be extended.

"This will help with interconnectivity of the pathway from Coeur d'Alene all the way out to Highway 41," said Bob Seale, Post Falls' community development director.

Post Falls' purchase of 10.45 acres east of Highway 41 for $365,750 will be financed with park impact fees.

The Prairie Trail now ends at Huetter Road.

The pending elimination of the spur line will also increase safety: Four public rail crossings will be eliminated, Seale said.

"It will improve mobility for all modes of transportation," Seale said.

Extension of the trail will be contingent on grant funding or city general funds.

Seale said the project anticipated a two-year Highway 41 widening project that will begin next year.

Just one business, the AmeriGas propane company on Prairie Avenue, relies on the spur line to receive shipments of goods.

Idaho Transportation Department officials said AmeriGas has agreed to terms for the state to buy out the company's lease contract with the railroad that will allow AmeriGas to remain at that location and receive inventory by truck. The company receives about half of its products via rail. The Surface Transportation Board will review the buy-out plan.

"We also looked at the possibility of moving their facility, but that involved moving tanks and building new foundations," said Bill Roberson, ITD planner. "It would have been a pretty large and costly endeavor for the state to do that."

Officials at AmeriGas didn't return a message seeking comment.

Roberson said ITD still needs UP to sign off on abandoning the spur line.

The spur line is also on the west side of Highway 41, but ITD does not have any plans for that property, said Megan Sausser, ITD spokeswoman.

"That will likely be up to other entities and developers," she said.

The spur line crosses Highway 41 between Prairie and Hayden avenues.

Union Pacific's main line crosses 41 north of Hayden. Bridges over the railroad are planned at that location as part of the Highway 41 widening project.

Purchases of railroad right-of-way by Coeur d'Alene and the Post Falls Highway District have made the Prairie Trail a reality.

Tabitha Kraack, executive director of the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation, said the collaboration among agencies is critical for the expansion of recreation opportunities in Kootenai County.

"We want more connectivity for non-motorized transportation, so this is super exciting for us," she said.

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