When it comes to high-speed rail, Gov. Mark Dayton says that Florida’s loss could be Minnesota’s gain.
The new DFL governor said he discussed high-speed rail Thursday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who welcomed Minnesota’s interest in pursuing stimulus money for a high-speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
Dayton, in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA), said that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s apparent decision to reject federal funds for a proposed Orlando-to-Tampa rail project makes the money available for other states.
“It does open the door for Minnesota to be considered,” he said.
Some analysts left the proposed Twin Cities-to-Chicago line for dead since Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he wasn't interested. But Dayton said the project could still be viable, either through Wisconsin or by an alternative route, including one that goes through Rochester or points south in Iowa.
Either way, Dayton said the $2.3 billion Florida seems to be passing up makes the money available to other states on a competitive basis. And Minnesota, Dayton told LaHood, is interested.
“Today put Minnesota on the Secretary’s radar screen as one of the states now interested in taking advantage of federal funding to develop high speed rail,” Dayton said.
Dayton said he also had a chance to discuss the rail line Thursday with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a fellow Democrat. He did not, however, get a chance to talk it over with Walker. Dayton said Quinn told him Walker was a likely no-show for the NGA meeting, being preoccupied as he is in a bitter standoff with public employee unions in Wisconsin.
Should Walker come to Washington, Dayton added, he’d like to talk to him about another transportation project of mutual interest: The Stillwater bridge.
Another rail line of interest to Dayton was conspicuously not mentioned in his meeting with LaHood. That would be the planned Central Corridor Light Rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Dayton said that despite hostility to transit projects among Republicans in Congress, he does not consider the Central Corridor project to be at risk.
“I’d rather take the Secretary’s time with real issues,” Dayton said.

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