BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A project almost a decade old is getting close to becoming a reality, but city officials find themselves at the mercy of the railways and government oversight.
City officials have been working to move the Amtrak Depot from its current 20th Street location to the Santa Fe Depot in Riverview Park since 2007 under the leadership of then-Mayor Steve Ireland. Ireland died in March of 2012. Ireland had served as mayor for seven years prior to his death, spearheading the effort and for his efforts the depot has been named the Steven J. Ireland Memorial Depot.
City Administrator David Varley said he’s hopeful the city will hear from the rail lines in the next two weeks as to any additional hoops the city would need to jump through to gain approval on plans to construct a new platform at the depot, which is the final piece of the project.
Many agencies are involved in the project including the city, Amtrak, Burlington-Northern Santa Fe, the Iowa Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers. Construction plans were sent to Amtrak and BNSF last year for comments. According to Varley, approval of the platform construction must go through several commenting and then approval phases from most of the groups involved.
Varley said the city was close about a year ago, but BNSF balked at the plans because the depot was too close to a curve in the track which goes against their rules. They asked that the platform be moved 300-400 feet to the west. So city officials had Klingner and Associates, a regional engineering and design firm originally tasked with designing the platform, resubmit plans for the platform with a 400-foot accommodation, Varley said the plans are now working their way back through the comment phase with the rail lines.
“We’re hoping to hear from them in the next two weeks. If not, then we would probably give them another two weeks, but then we might have to look at other options,” he said.
“We have a good contact with Amtrak in Chicago who really has been helpful for us. But recently they brought in a bunch of other people new to the project who are now involved in looking over the plans. Hopefully that will go through fairly quickly.”
He said part of the process is also getting required permits from the Corps of Engineers showing that the platform and depot are out of the Mississippi River flood plain. The city took steps to take the depot building and surrounding property out of the flood plain in 2010 when construction crews lifted the building and rebuilt the foundation.
Varley said he’s optimistic that construction of the platform will be completed this year. He said the Iowa Department of Transportation will be the big player in the project once it is approved by everyone else.
“We’ll have to get some agreements in front of the City Council once we have approval, but then the DOT takes over as they will do most of the bid letting on the project and handling some grants for us,” Varley said.
According to 2010 estimates the platform could cost $1.8 million to build but state and federal grants and contributions from the rail lines could potentially offset a majority of the cost.