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High-speed rail route funding

Published (2/13/2009)
By Mike Cook
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A potential route for a high-speed rail service between the Twin Cities to Chicago remains up for debate.

Supporters of one bill heard by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division Feb. 10 want it to follow the corridor designated by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission. However, a group from Rochester told the division not to forget about the state’s third-largest city.

Both bills were held over for a possible referral to the House Capital Investment Finance Division.

Sponsored by Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), HF259 would authorize $10 million in general obligation bonds for the state’s share of an environmental analysis of a high-speed rail line between the Union Depot in St. Paul and the Windy City. As designated by the commission, the route would be through Hastings, Red Wing, Winona and La Crescent.

Michael Rogers, senior transportation planner for the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, said the planned line would provide six daily trains to Chicago, create 1,570 permanent jobs and have $1.6 billion in user benefits.

Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) successfully amended the bill to require the analysis include costs of a future extension from the Union Depot to downtown Minneapolis.

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) doesn’t want her community forgotten as a possible stop. She sponsors HF124, which would authorize $500,000 in general obligation bonds, so the Department of Transportation can conduct a feasibility study of a high-speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Chicago through Rochester.

Among points made by supporters of her bill are that the Mayo Clinic brings 500,000 people to the state annually, and contributes roughly $4 billion to the state’s economy each year; a recent study indicates the city has the highest per-capita concentration of high-tech businesses in the country; and that a 2007 survey of southeast Minnesota residents indicated that 91 percent believe it is important that a high-speed route include a Rochester stop.

The companion bills, SF101, sponsored by Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport), and SF156, sponsored by Sen. Ann Lynch (DFL-Rochester), were scheduled to be heard Feb. 12 by the Transit Subdivision of the Senate Transportation Budget and Policy Division.

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