San Juan County has been awarded $2 million to pay for the next steps in a project intended to bring freight rail service to San Juan County. Local stakeholders will be consulted to help determine the best route.
In February, San Juan County entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Navajo Nation to move forward in planning for the possibility of freight rail to serve San Juan County and the Navajo Nation.
Since then, San Juan County applied for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, Transportation Discretionary Grant program from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Award of this grant proves just how important a possible rail system is to our area,” said San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner. “The economic development represented by a freight system means numerous jobs for San Juan County and Navajo Nation residents as well as a secure future of economic diversity.”
BUILD grant money will be used in the planning phase of any effort for freight rail.
First, a study of economic feasibility will be conducted. Then design and construction feasibility will be studied. This includes potential alignments and right-of-way access and problems along any proposed alignment.
Finally, the grant will cover the cost of meetings and input sessions with stakeholders, which include local communities, governmental entities and potential business partners.
Securing a BUILD grant marks the furthest any effort to obtain rail service has progressed over the last few decades.
“Rail has long been a crucial missing piece of our logistics resources,” said Warren Unsicker, director of economic development for the city of Farmington. “This stands to not only create countless new jobs but attract new businesses that would not have otherwise considered our area.”
San Juan County anticipates moving ahead with activities funded by the BUILD grant by the end of the year.
“I commend San Juan County for securing grant dollars to conduct feasibility studies for this initiative,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “Informing local residents and Navajo chapters and gaining their support is essential to move this proposed project forward. We look forward to working with San Juan County and others to determine the feasibility of this project.”