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Op-Ed: UP sees SLC train traffic rising if lake culvert isn't closed

Published November 22, 2013 5:49 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Union Pacific has been part of the state of Utah since the completion of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. Utah is a hub for Union Pacific today. We have more than 1,400 employees in the state and made private investments of more than $290 million in Utah's transportation infrastructure from 2007-2012.

In the 1950s, a competitor of Union Pacific, Southern Pacific Railroad, built the Great Salt Lake Causeway. In 1996, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific merged, making Union Pacific the owner of the causeway.

More than two years ago Union Pacific began a dialogue with the Army Corps of Engineers and several state agencies responsible for the Great Salt Lake about needed maintenance on the Great Salt Lake Causeway. The Corps of Engineers, together with Union Pacific, outlined and agreed upon a process to secure a permit to build a 180-foot bridge to replace two deteriorating culverts on the causeway.

It is worth noting the two culverts were not originally built to control water flow but were constructed to allow boats to pass through the Causeway.

Since those initial discussions more than two years ago, Union Pacific has worked carefully to follow the process outlined by the Corps of Engineers, and with input from several resource agencies, to replace the deteriorating culverts with the new bridge in an effort to maintain similar bi-directional flows of water and salt exchange between the north and south arms of the lake.

The permit process for the proposed Union Pacific bridge on the causeway has moved slowly. In August, 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers granted Union Pacific an emergency permit to close one of the culverts that was in danger of failing. As the process has continued to move along, the second of the two culverts has reached the point of failure much faster than the agencies or we expected. In order to prevent a train derailment or collapse, we need to close the culvert immediately while continuing to work with the state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers to secure authorization to build our proposed bridge. Union Pacific has filed the appropriate state application as it relates to the existing nationwide permit and will continue to work diligently with the state of Utah to reach agreement.

Union Pacific understands the sensitivity we Utahns have towards any impact this project may have on the Great Salt Lake. As part of our effort to work collaboratively with Utah state agencies and the Corps of Engineers, Union Pacific has hired two of the foremost experts on the Great Salt Lake to assist us with analysis in support of our overall plan for mitigation and preservation of bi-directional water flow and salt exchange required by the Corps of Engineers.

The culvert is not the only source of that water flow and salt exchange through the causeway, but Union Pacific is doing all it can to replace the loss of the culvert's contribution to that exchange.

Without closing the culvert in the meantime, the causeway may soon become unsafe for train traffic creating the need to divert trains around the lake. In addition to the lost time and dollars such diversion will cause for Union Pacific and our customers, there will be increased train traffic through Salt Lake City, impacting local residents.

We remain committed to working with the state of Utah and the Corps of Engineers and hope to replace the expired culverts with a new bridge as soon as possible.

Dan Harbeke is director of public affairs for Union Pacific and lives in Salt Lake City