Transport chief hails Central Corridor

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 19, 2011 - 9:11 PM

Ray LaHood toured St. Paul's light-rail construction during a campaign to generate support for President Obama's jobs plan.

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke in front of the Union Depot in St. Paul. He praised the Central Corridor light-rail project and similar transit spending as catalysts for economic and job growth.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Promoting the president's jobs plan, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to St. Paul on Monday to inspect a future light-rail station and tout transit spending as an engine for economic growth.

Flanked by dozens of construction workers in hard hats, LaHood said critics of the Central Corridor light-rail project "should be out here looking at all of these workers who have good-paying jobs."

But state GOP Chairman Tony Sutton wasn't impressed. He said the jobs are temporary work "that's not going to help get this country's fiscal house in order and ... isn't going to help get the economy back on track."

LaHood's appearance at the Central Corridor station under construction outside Union Depot was part of a broader campaign to whip up public support for Congress to pass President Obama's American Jobs Act. It calls for spending $50 billion on transportation nationwide.

He was accompanied by Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. House members Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

The 11-mile Central Corridor line, expected to open in 2014, will link Minneapolis and St. Paul at a cost estimated at $957 million. The federal government is committed to paying half.

Hennepin and Ramsey counties and St. Paul are using property taxes to pay about 10 percent of the cost. The state also pays nearly 10 percent. A portion of dedicated sales taxes from five metro counties will cover 30 percent.

LaHood called the project "a model for America" and said the Jobs Act would provide an additional $9 billion for other bus and rail transit and $4 billion for high-speed rail.

"There is an enormous amount of money ... that would be available to put thousands of people to work," he said.

Earlier on Monday in Minneapolis, LaHood told a rail industry conference that inter-city high-speed rail construction called for in the jobs plan would spur economic development. Dayton and Minnesota transportation officials have hopes of high-speed rail someday between the Twin Cities and Chicago and Rochester.

The Metropolitan Council, which is overseeing the Central Corridor, says that project and a related renovation of the Union Depot will create more than 3,000 jobs during four years.

"These are the kinds of projects that we need to... accelerate," said Peter Rogoff, head of the Federal Transit Administration.

Sutton called LaHood's appearance "a dog and pony show for a plan that really has no chance of passing." He said the government would create more and better jobs by cutting business regulations.

Listening to LaHood was Paul Heins, 60, a carpenter who is helping renovate the Union Depot. Heins, who said he makes about $30 an hour, bristled at criticism that the jobs are only temporary.

He said he had been out of work for months before landing the depot job and without it, "I'd probably be unemployed."

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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