Spotlight on Sustainability: Mitchell to Rapid City, South Dakota

The following is based on an interview with Bruce Lindholm, Program Manager, South Dakota Department of Transportation.

For farming communities in South Dakota, high transportation costs for crops has a major impact on the economy. Increased mileage and fuel prices mean that less money goes back into farmers’ pockets and into the local community. All of that is about to change with the help of a TIGER II grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, through the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The Mitchell-Rapid City Rail Line, in the midst of rehabilitation, will soon be able to transport agricultural commodities shorter distances and at lower costs than the trucks currently in use. Once completed, the Line will carry grain and fertilizer over 60 miles from Mitchell, SD to Chamberlain, SD.

Photo via Flickr user Andreas Solberg

The improvements will be a boon to the economy. “Significant savings in transportation costs will allow the local elevator to pay farmers 15-25 cents more per bushel for their product. That money goes back into the local economy,” says Bruce Lindholm, Program Manager at the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT). He and others at SDDOT are overseeing the reconstruction of the rail line through a predominantly agricultural and rural region of the state.

It’s not only larger profits for farmers; the area has also experienced a spike in job creation as a result of the rail reconstruction. “There are over 100 guys working on the railroad. Hotels in towns along the line haven’t had a vacancy all summer,” says Lindholm, “Those immediate benefits are significant, but it’s not just the obvious benefits to farmers and construction workers – – the projects are really building on themselves.”

The initial investment in the rail line, made possible by the TIGER grant, has spurred a subsequent investment in a $30 million grain elevator along the line, another planned $25 million elevator, and the construction and long-term operating jobs that will follow. “This project will create good, high paying jobs with benefits in very rural South Dakota. The Town of Kimball has a population of 1,000 and 30 good jobs is a big deal,” says Lindholm.

The success of the project has also generated interest in another nearby, unused rail line, and an extension of the current project. In order to improve the Mitchell-Rapid City line further to the west, SDDOT is applying for another TIGER grant. According to Lindholm, support for the project is so high that properties along the line are already being bought up or optioned.

In fact, the community has given their full support from the beginning, as have local businesses. Several local groups pledged matching funds, including the South Dakota Railroad Board, the Mitchell to Rapid City Regional Railroad Authority, and the rail line’s operator Dakota Southern Railway Company.

It’s easy to see why there is excitement in the community, with the Mitchell-Rapid City Rail Line near completion and already having a major impact on economic development throughout the region. Concludes Lindholm, “Times are tough. There isn’t a lot of money going into rural communities. This TIGER grant presented an opportunity for our community to find a way to help itself – – and it worked.”